Dec 1, 2001 | Marmot, Winter 2001

Herb Bradley Honoured for a Lifetime of Community Service

Herb Bradley folded his hands on his walking cane and bowed his head, resting it on his hands, as the room around him erupted in a standing ovation.

The sold out crowd at the Florence Filberg Centre had come to honor the consummate volunteer: Bradley, the man who has made so much difference in so many lives, in so many ways.
The Herb Bradley dinner in November attracted a who’s who of the Comox Valley history books, as Bradley’s former students and fellow volunteers came from all over Vancouver Island to applaud him.

Since he arrived in the Comox Valley in 1947, Bradley has been instrumental in teaching kids how to swim and ski, and has helped bring the Vancouver Island Skiing for the Disabled Society a national reputation for the calibre of skiers it trains. Amid all the stories that the packed house told at the “open mic”, and the songs that Bradley — known for leading a ski class or two in song — led, everyone paused to hear the big news. The disabled skiing race traditionally held in February at Mt. Washington has now been renamed the Herb Bradley Coca-Cola Classic.
“This is one of the events that’s near and dear to our hearts,” said Peter Kupiak, Island manager for Coca-Cola, in announcing the name change for the popular VISD fund-raiser. The race pits teams of skiers, including disabled skiers, against each other in a fun race on the Green Chair run. The race habitually attracts some big-time names, like the B.C. Lions, who promote it by doing live appearances as well as participating in the race itself.

Bradley was born in Bonnie Doon, a suburb of Edmonton. He was one of seven boys and three girls, and at Rutherford school he was always one of the top athletic performers in all fields. “His activities were many and varied, but in all fields his tremendous natural ability and strength of character and sheer determination always ended with the rest of the pack looking his way for leadership, even in the earlier days,” George Hobson wrote in 1960. Once out of school Bradley worked in a sash and door factory as well as a mill, about 100 miles outside of Edmonton.
After taking a swimming instructors’ course at the YMCA one year, he became a lifeguard and, under the watchful eye of one of Canada’s finest swimming coaches, he blossomed into a leading swimmer.

When the war came, Bradley enlisted in the navy, went to Halifax for basic training and was shipped off to sea. After switching to physical training, he met his future wife, Blanche, who was to play an important – albeit silent — role in Bradley’s life of volunteerism.

When the war ended Bradley started working for the Edmonton board of education. He left that job in early 1947 and moved to the Comox Valley after George Hobson hired him as the Courtenay Recreational Association’s first full-time recreational director — a post he held for 27 years.

“He put emphasis on the individual achievement and taught (kids) to persevere to reach their goal,” said Don Dunne, president of the Vancouver Island Skiing for the Disabled Society. “His broad interest and personal involvement in sports, such as canoeing, hiking, swimming and gymnastics were brought to the CRA. He also brought arts groups and seniors’ groups into the fold.”
In 1969 Bradley’s titled changed to Parks and Recreation superintendent. Later he assumed duties of area manager for the Mt. Becher Ski Development Society. He was also the first chairperson for the Comox Valley Winter Carnival in 1964.

“It’s true Herb has been around for a long time but, someone once said, ‘the measure of a life, after all, is not its duration but its donation.’ Using that criteria, Herb Bradley is a very big man indeed,” Dunne said.

“Rumor also has it that Herb was a fair skier,” he added, to a room full of laughter. “Because of a large number of skiers taught by ski clubs and the Herb Bradley Ski School, Mt. Washington had a ready clientele when it opened on Dec. 15, 1979.”

Many staff members from Mt. Washington were present at Bradley’s dinner, including general manager Peter Gibson, who was a member of the Fanny Dunker Ski Club — which Bradley led. Gibson hearkened back to the sounds, smells, tastes and sights of the mountains when he was skiing with Bradley, and his memories brought many laughs to those in the crowd who remembered things like the bone shaker (the truck that Bradley drove, with kids in back, to Forbidden Plateau for lessons), the Kandahar run, cooking wet gloves on a wood stove and more.

The dinner was also to honor Blanche, who died suddenly on Sept. 29. Blanche Bradley worked with the Courtenay Recreational Association as a volunteer for 15 years before taking on a paid job as secretary for a few years. She worked alongside Herb at Forbidden Plateau, running rentals and selling lift tickets.

“A lot of our members were not aware of the large amount of work Blanche did for our society,” Dunne said.

“She worked in the background… she was Herb’s greatest supporter, plus she kept him on track.” Blanche also kept meticulous records and maintained numerous scrapbooks, some of which were laid out on tables around the Filberg Centre for people to browse. Herb Bradley thanked Dunne for acknowledging Blanche, who he says he still misses “dearly, and I think I will for years to come.

“I’m just really overwhelmed,” he said of the dinner. “I don’t know anything I can say to thank everybody … I’ll remember this for a long, long time.”

Although Bradley has retired from skiing for the VISD — he cracked a few ribs and a couple of vertebrae in an accident three years ago — he says he’s looking forward to coming back in some capacity next year.

To disabled skiers, Herb Bradley is the man who made it possible for many of them to have the opportunity to experience the excitement of skiing.

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