He was the bon vivant in the room, the man bigger than life who pushed those around him to be the best they could be.
Bernard Papp, a financial adviser who moved to Red Deer from Lethbridge in 1987, never really made the news himself, but he supplied the power to many of the ones who did, say people who knew him.
Papp, 62, died suddenly and of natural causes on Aug. 27 while vacationing with members of his family in Whitefish, Mont.
Gail Surkan, Mayor of Red Deer for 12 years, said she knew of Papp, but didn’t really get to know him until he offered to manage her campaign in 1992, the year she was elected to her first term in the City’s top seat.
“It was just such a personal gift to have someone like that step up and indicate that they were willing to commit to me and my potential as a candidate,” Surkan said on Saturday.
“Those 12 years in office flew, and during that time, he continued to be there as a mentor, a sounding board and sometimes a cheerleader, always ready to give me very candid feedback about what he thought I was doing well and (when) he thought I needed to pick up my socks.
“He, I think, reflected a point of view that was widely shared, in the business community especially. He always had a very supportive and gentlemanly way of bringing that point of view.”
Red Deer would have been a poorer community without builders like Papp, who fly slightly under the radar in their efforts to support politics, business, sports, fundraisers and community projects, Surkan.
“They’re not necessarily the people whose names we recognize or whose faces are always in the newspaper, but we know that the community really thrives because they’re involved. We always kind of reflect back on, where would the community have been without that kind of involvement?”
Longtime friends and business associates Ken Mandrusiak and Ron Lariviere reflected on Papp’s boundless energy and his willingness to throw his shoulder to the wheel wherever possible.
“He was one those guys that was saying, ‘Don’t send your kid to the arena, take him’” said Mandrusiak, who moved to Red Deer the same year as Papp to take charge of the Black Knight Inn.
When Papp’s son, Brandon, started playing minor hockey, Papp got involved, too, he said. He started coaching and went on to mentor some of Red Deer’s greatest hockey players, including Jesse Wallin, former player and assistant coach for the Red Deer Rebels.
“He was an exceptional person in our town. He was very effective at getting established. He knew what to do and how to get recognized. We’d be at all these charity functions and he’d be the first guy to put his hand up in an auction. In a very short period of time, I found that everyone in town knew Bernie.”
Mandrusiak said he cannot imagine what Red Deer would be like without Papp’s involvement.
“He committed a huge part of his time to things that would better the community, big time.”
Left with three small children to raise on his own after the death of his wife, Debbie, Papp again stepped up to the plate and did an “unbelievable” job with them, said Mandrusiak.
He didn’t do things for notoriety or attention, but for all of the right reasons, and was always careful to avoid the limelight, he said.
“It wasn’t something that he craved.”
Lariviere, who had invested in a couple of different businesses with Papp, also described him as someone who accomplished much while avoiding accolades.
He was a pilot, a golfer, a sailor, a skier and, most recently had taken up fly fishing, said Lariviere, who will give the eulogy at the memorial service being held for Papp today.
The reason he could do all of those things, along with raising a family, running a business, managing political campaigns, helping with fundraisers, serving with the Rotary Club and chairing the Red Deer Regional Airport Authority was because he was an excellent time manager, said Lariviere.
“He was bigger than life.”
Papp will be remembered in a service set for 3 p.m. today at the Harvest House in Westerner Park.