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Former MLA Bill Ritchie passes away

Bill Ritchie - Submitted
Bill Ritchie
— image credit: Submitted

William Ritchie was “the kind of man who saw opportunities,” deciding to come to Canada from his native Scotland on the flip of a coin.

The former MLA for the Central Fraser Valley constituency was born in 1927 and raised in Glasgow, where as a boy he would dismantle wooden boxes and sell the pieces as kindling to help with the family expenses.

During the Second World War, Bill joined the British Royal Navy after lying about his age.

William Ritchie passed away on Feb. 9, just before his 87th birthday. He is predeceased by his first wife, Francis Maud, and his older son Gordon. He is survived by his wife Nina, his daughter Laurna, and sons Stewart and Scott, as well as many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Laurna said her father had an “entrepreneurial spirit,” and she admired the way he was willing to go where there was work, and put in the effort to build a better life.

He was also a “gardener at heart,” who loved being out in the yard.

He had farmed as a young man, and he met his wife Francis Maud in Ireland where they started their own farm.

Bill wanted to leave Europe to go to New Zealand or Canada. Laurna said her father appreciated those countries, where hard work allowed people to make their own opportunities.

Their decision was made on the flip of a coin, and the family moved to Canada, first settling in Winnipeg. Eventually, the family put down roots in Abbotsford, where Bill started a business with Dave Smith, called Ritchie-Smith Feeds Inc. in 1968.

Smith was a livestock nutritionist who developed the feed, while Bill took care of the management of the business.

Laurna said her father was adamant about including the workers in their success, included them in profit-sharing and owning equity in the business.

It was a philosophy to treat employees as they would like to be treated  that Laurna said her father hoped to bring to workers across the province.

In 1978, when the provincial government changed electoral boundaries, the new Central Fraser Valley constituency was created, bordered by Chilliwack to the east and Langley to the west.

The feed business was sold to employees in 1979, and Bill and Dave retired, with Bill quickly moving on to public life.

He ran for the Social Credit Party and was elected in 1979. His first speech in the legislature focused on the need to support agriculture in his riding, as well as increasing the food processing sector in order to create jobs.

He spoke of the need to take a common sense approach to preserving land for agriculture, telling the legislature that “in preserving our agricultural land we are actually preserving our ability to make food.”

He said his maiden speech focused on agriculture because of its importance to the economy of his constituency and “because I am just a simple farmer, a farmer at heart.”

In his second term, he served as minister of municipal affairs. Laurna said her father struggled sometimes with the politics, but his integrity and ability to see the positive side of things helped carry him through the challenges of leadership.

“He was never afraid to speak his mind,” said Laurna.

When he left politics following his second term, Laurna said he truly retired from public life. He and his second wife Nina travelled North America in a motorhome, and explored the coasts in a motor yacht before settling in Qualicum Beach.

A celebration of William Ritchie’s life will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 8 at Mountain Park Community Church, 36228 Lower Sumas Mountain Road in Abbotsford.

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