(Leeds and Thousand Islands, ON) written February 24, 2023
Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands (TLTI) Deputy Mayor Gordon Ohlke passed away peacefully in his sleep on February 21, 2023, at the age of 69. Married to wife Lorraine for 33 years, they have four children.
Born in Montreal, Ohlke was raised in Mississauga, Ontario. His family has a long history in the Kingston area, and he was well known in TLTI.
“After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science from Queen’s University, Gord joined the Canadian Armed Forces where he worked in the military,” said TLTI CAO Steve Donachey. “He earned a master’s degree in military history from the Royal Military College in Kingston. After 35 years on active duty, Gord ‘retired’, but continued to be called back to the Forces for a number of contracts.”
Ohlke rose to the rank of Major before retiring from the Forces.
“I would define my military career in three eras,” said Ohlke in an interview with YourTV Kingston.
Joining in 1978 at the age of 25 and dividing his service roughly in thirds, the first would be in what people in the forces like to call the Decade of Darkness (the Cold War), the second after the fall of the Berlin Wall with UN peace keeping troops, and the final third at war in various places.
“I think a big part of our war aim was to be allies and to restore people’s faith in us,” he said. “That would span my career – I am of that generation that dealt with the post-Viet Nam syndrome. You were looked down on in that period if you were in the military.”
But people’s opinions started to change after the Oka Crisis. Things have moved forward since then, and Ohlke was proud of his service, especially to the people in Canada that needed his help.
This fed his interest in helping his community, where he contributed a lot politically and was involved in helping to protect the environment.
“Gord served as the President of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada Electoral District Association of Kingston and the Islands,” said Donachey. “He also represented Council as board member of the Leeds and Thousand Islands Public Library and the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority.
“Gord enjoyed interacting with people of all ages. One of his favourite events was a day of planting trees with the students at Sweet’s Corners Public School. He marvelled at the enthusiasm of the students and their commitment to planting trees to help the environment.”
First elected as Councillor for Ward 2 in 2018, in 2022 he was re-elected and selected by his council colleagues to serve as Deputy Mayor for TLTI.
“Gord was widely respected by Council, staff, and residents of the Township,” said Donachey. “He treated everyone with respect and people respected him. During the 2018 and 2022 elections, he campaigned door-to-door and was able to connect personally with his constituents. He was interested in people and their views.
“An avid beekeeper, he was happy to talk about his bees with anyone. While he had a small commercial operation to sell his honey and joked that the bees were his retirement fund, he really kept the bees because he loved them. Early on in my tenure as CAO with the Township, I expressed an interest in bees. Gord invited me to come out and see his hives. He soon had me suited up and poking around inside the hives. I mostly handed stuff to Gord and tried not to make the bees angry. We ended a very enjoyable morning by sitting on the tailgate of Gord’s truck eating sandwiches while the odd bee buzzed by our heads. It’s my favourite memory of him.”
“Councillor Brian Mabee captured it when he said, ‘Gord and Mark have heated agreements,’” said Councillor Mark Jamison. “Rarely did we disagree on the goal but very often on the strategy. In 2019, we decided to travel together to a conference. All the way there we argued and then all the way back we argued As Gord climbed out of my vehicle, he smiled and told me we should do another trip soon. No argument there.
“It was shortly after that Gord christened us Statler and Waldorf, the two grumpy old men Muppet characters who sit arguing and complaining in the theatre balcony.”
A strong advocate for his community, residents knew that they could reach out to him about anything, and he and staff would work diligently to solve the issue. His greatest passions were family, bees, and the environment.
“Husband, proud dad, farmer, historian, friend,” said Councillor Terry Fodey. “Gord was truly a family man feeling guilty for the years he had spent apart from family due to his service to our country in the military. He was in his ‘happy place’ tending to his hives of bees at their farm on Thomas Road. A true-life historian, he had a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Life can be hurtful when we lose a work colleague, but it is more painful when you also lose a friend.”
Ohlke was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion and proudly participated in Remembrance Day services every year. He was also a battlefield tour guide, accompanying international tours of areas where important battles were fought and providing historical details of each battle.
“To prepare for a tour, Gord would conduct extensive research on the battlefields to be visited which could take months to complete,” said Donachey. “Gord would also prepare a booklet for tour participants with maps and key points about the battles.”
He will be best remembered as a person of honour, integrity and intelligence who listened to people and always took their views into consideration before making a decision
“Gord was a great man – very thoughtful and always interesting to converse with,” said Councillor Brian Mabee. “Pre-COVID he had come out to my house at maple syrup season, and we talked about our worlds while the sap was boiling away. It was always very interesting. During many of our conversations we talked about the sweet things of life like honey and maple syrup.
“He will be very missed around the council table as a representative of Ward 2 and deputy mayor for our township.”