Former Red Deer mayor Bob McGhee — described as being “the right man at the right time” to shape the city’s development — died last week at age 88.
McGhee was mayor from 1980 to 1992. During that time he pushed on with the Herculean tasks of moving the rail tracks from the downtown, building the Centrium arena, contributing towards the Red Deer College Arts Centre and creating what’s become Red Deer’s best-loved feature — the Waskasoo Parks system.
“Any one of those projects would be a great legacy, but to have all four of these done in 12 years is a real testament to the kind of man Bob McGhee was,” said Larry Pimm, who served on city council during those years.
“He was the right guy at the right time, and Red Deer benefited from it a great deal.”
The native of Moose Jaw, Sask. was, by all accounts, a serious-minded straight-shooter and not your typical politician. Pimm said he hated making speeches, so always kept them short. The pipe-smoking former City of Red Deer engineer was too low-key to be a back-slapper — and was scrupulously honest, recalled Pimm.
“I always said if you lost your wallet with $100 in it, you’d want Bob to be the one who found it. You’d get it back with $110.”
Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer commended the late McGhee for his many accomplishments, including leading the construction of the current Red Deer hospital and moving the exhibition grounds to the city’s south side.
She expressed sadness at his passing, stating “Mayor Bob McGhee was a faithful public servant who cared immeasurably for our community.”
McGhee grew up in Saskatchewan and moved to Calgary when he was 17 to play high-level hockey. While getting his engineering degree from the University of Alberta he played for the U of A Golden Bears hockey team.
Morris Flewwelling, also a former Red Deer mayor, became familiar with McGhee’s no-nonsense style while they worked together on the Waskasoo Parks Committee. The group was tasked with expanding the city’s parks system with $20-million grant from the Alberta’s Heritage Trust Fund.
Flewwelling recalled McGhee always getting “to the heart of the matter. He didn’t get distracted by fluff and detail…
“People sometimes said Bob was dull because he didn’t show excitement — he’d just smoke his pipe and quietly go about his business,” but he got things done without a lot of chatter or drama,” said Flewwelling.
Because of more turbulent times under his predecessors, the people of Red Deer decided they wanted stability — and that’s exactly what they got with McGhee, said Flewwelling. “He was like a bulldozer. Once he got on track he didn’t get distracted.”
But he’s credited for largely helping shape the city we know today. “We did a lot of wonderful work (with the parks system) and Bob was a part of the big, broad brushstroke stuff,” said Flewwelling.
Besides playing hockey and golf, McGhee became a dedicated dancer later in life. McGhee took lessons from the Red Deer Pattern Dancers and was later a regular at Legion dances. His instructor, Eileen Cole, got to see his other side, which she described as generous and funny.
“He had the best sense of humour,” recalled Cole. “It was a dry humour. He told the best jokes…”
McGhee was predeceased by his wife Betty, and is survived by his children.