Ken Gillis, who led Thompson-Nicola Regional District board through turbulent times, dead at 79

Ken Gillis, former board chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, is shown in an undated photo. (Submitted by Thompson-Nicola Regional District - image credit)
Ken Gillis, former board chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District, is shown in an undated photo. (Submitted by Thompson-Nicola Regional District - image credit)

Ken Gillis, a former board chair of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD), is being remembered for his passionate leadership and for his role in guiding the district through some turbulent times, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 wildfire season and a forensic audit that looked into the handling of finances by district leadership.

Gillis died earlier this week in Sechelt at the age of 79.

"I always looked at him [for] all the good things he'd done, and keeping the ship afloat here at the TNRD … keeping the board together, keeping the administration together," said board member and Area L director Douglas Haughton, in conversation with Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

"He was a strong leader, a good voice. He had power behind his decision-making … and I believe he was well-respected by the previous boards that he chaired."

After he was first elected in 2011, Gillis served three terms as the TNRD's Area L director.

Area L — also known as Grasslands — is on the south side of the South Thompson River, with the general boundaries of Chase, eastern Kamloops, Stump Lake and Westwold.

Gillis was board chair of the TNRD from 2018 to 2022.

"His four years as board chair were marked by the pandemic, a horrendous fire season in 2021, and the forensic audit, but through it all, he provided a steady hand as he guided the board through a tumultuous time," said current board chair Barbara Roden, who is the mayor of Ashcroft.

Audit focused on former CAO

The forensic audit focused mainly on expense submissions by former chief administrative officer Sukh Gill from Jan. 1, 2015 to Dec. 31, 2019. The audit was completed in January 2022 and found almost $200,000 of more than $755,000 of filed expenses were not properly documented.

The audit included 69 recommendations on how to improve financial transparency and safeguards within the TNRD, and the board accepted those recommendations unanimously.

Roden said Gillis had a lot of "misguided" anger directed toward him during the spending scandal and did his best to get himself and the TNRD board through it.

"I hope that people will look at it and say, 'he was the chair of the board that put an end to what was going on, that sort of cleaned house at the TNRD,'" Roden told CBC.

"That took a lot of courage, it took a lot of patience, and it took … a mental toll on him."

Gillis came to politics later in life

Long before he got into politics, Gillis was a truck driver. Later on, he became a lawyer.

Once in the political realm, Gillis always took his responsibilities "very seriously," said his daughter, Carole Gillis.

"He was always prepared for meetings and approached issues thoughtfully, and from a variety of perspectives, looking after the interests of his constituents," she said.

On a personal level, Carole Gillis described her father as larger than life.

"He had a huge heart and very, very strong opinions but … he was able to incorporate new information and shift his position, and I think for somebody who has such strong opinions and was of the age that he was, that's an incredibly admirable quality," Carole Gillis said.

"And for all that I disagreed with him on — on a host of topics — I was very proud of him."

Ken Gillis is also survived by wife, Linda, his son, Charlie Gillis, and two grandchildren.