Flowers, a Bible, sympathy cards and a framed picture of late Westport Mayor Bill Thake were the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville's best attempt to fill a significant and heartbreaking absence on Tuesday morning.
The items, laid out on Thake's counties council desk, formed a humble and touching memorial to the man whose remarkable career and engaging personality were the subject of a brief tribute.
Thake died June 26, at age 77, as a result of a stroke he suffered June 23. He was in his 44th year as head of Westport council, and his 52nd year of municipal politics.
“Mayor Bill Thake's absence today leaves a void in our hearts,” counties Warden Ron Holman said at the start of a special council session called to honour Thake's memory.
“We have lost not only a friend, but an encyclopedia of knowledge when it comes to the history and the events of the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville.”
“The shock of his passing leaves staff, friends, and his colleagues in a state of disbelief,” added Holman.
Counties councillors then took turns speaking about their recollections of Thake, often recalling how the long-sitting mayor first welcomed them to the upper-tier council.
The recollections were at times humorous.
Front of Yonge Mayor Roger Haley, remembering his first term as that township's head of council, said Thake gave him useful advice about what to do when trouble arises in the chamber: “That's why they give you the wooden mallet.”
Haley said he only used the gavel once, to silence comments from the gallery that were out of order; then-counties warden Mel Campbell happened to be visiting Front of Yonge council at the time and later jokingly told him his wielding of the gavel had frightened him.
Thake not only “talked the talk,” but “walked the walk” with his hard work and dedication, said Merrickville-Wolford Mayor Doug Struthers.
Struthers also recalled how Thake was among the first to welcome him aboard when he first came to the counties, at the start of his first term as mayor.
“It underscored to me ... that he really is the face of Leeds and Grenville,” said Struthers.
“He was probably one of the last of the old-fashioned gentlemen. He showed respect and dignity in everything he did,” said North Grenville Mayor David Gordon.
The North Grenville mayor added with a chuckle that Thake was not above setting him straight in his typically direct fashion.
“We all know he's in heaven,” added Gordon.
“He will never be replaced and we're all going to miss him dearly,” said Elizabethtown-Kitley Mayor Jim Pickard.
As a lasting tribute to Thake's record of service and dedication, the counties will set up a scholarship in his name, said Holman, adding details of that initiative will be announced later.
Perhaps as a final tribute to their no-nonsense friend, counties councillors kept their tributes brief before reconvening for a public works committee meeting.
“I know what Bill would be saying right now: 'Get back to work!'” said Holman.