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City of Langley's last surviving founder passes away

John Jeffery (second from left) a freeman of the City of Langley and one of its first aldermen, passed away on Saturday at the age of 91.   - archival photo
John Jeffery (second from left) a freeman of the City of Langley and one of its first aldermen, passed away on Saturday at the age of 91.
— image credit: archival photo

John Jeffery, a freeman of the City of Langley and one of its founding fathers, has died.

Jeffery passed away on Saturday, Jan. 19 at the age of 91 from organ failure, complicated by pneumonia and c. difficile.

“He was too sick . . . it was too much,” said Jeffery’s son Bryce of the combination of illnesses his father faced during the three weeks he spent in Langley Memorial Hospital.

“But he was a fighter to the end,” he said, relating how Jeffery had opened his eyes on Saturday morning, cried and hugged his daughter-in-law, Marianne, before slipping back into a semi-coma and passing away peacefully that night, with family members holding his hands.

“He was pure guts,” said Bryce.

In fact, throughout his years in Langley, Jeffery was “viewed as a bit of a gunslinger,” said Bryce.

People would see him coming and cross the street, he laughed.

But once they met him, Bryce added, they’d discover he was a big softie.

“My dad was a lovely, lovely, lovely man.”

A realtor, notary public and insurance agent who once wrote for the Vancouver Sun, Jeffery came to Canada from England with his father James, a butcher, and mother, Beatrice.

The family lived in Saskatoon before moving to Langley in 1932 and purchasing a large piece of land in the area that is now Douglas Crescent (a portion of which James Jeffery later donated to the City).

During the Second World War Jeffery served with the RCAF and later became president of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 21.

He was also president of the Langley Junior Chamber of Commerce, president of Langley Red Cross, vice president of the Langley Board of Trade and president of Langley Amateur Athletic Association (through which he helped the municipality develop Douglas Park).

Although he’d been an alderman, and loved to talk politics with his son, Jeffery was not a conventional politico, said Bryce.

“One thing dad lacked as a politician was that he wouldn’t change his position on issues. He was a man of principle.”

Although he was a prominent member of the federal Liberal party, “the reason he couldn’t go anywhere (in politics) is that he would live or die with an outcome,” said Bryce.

“That’s why people see him as a black-and-white character.”

Jeffery was perhaps best known, however, for being a driving force behind the incorporation of the City of Langley in 1955 and sitting on its first council.

In 2005 he spoke at a dinner celebrating the municipality’s 50th anniversary. He explained then that the City was not formed over a dispute about streetlights, as is widely believed, but because, among other reasons, sewage was flowing freely in its ditches.

Nearly 60 years after its formation, Jeffery remained a strong supporter of the City and its independence, said Bryce.

In the face of a recent campaign to amalgamate the City and Township, Jeffery remained staunchly opposed to the idea.

He believed that many of the same issues that led to the formation of the City, still exist, while acknowledging that a complete change of name at the time might have created less kick-back, said Bryce.

For the last number of years, Jeffery lived in James Court (named for his father) at the edge of Douglas Park.

But rather than sit quietly by in his senior years, Jeffery once again made news in 2008, when he and Bryce mounted a petition to stop the City of Langley from building the Spirit Square stage in Douglas Park at a cost of more than $1 million.

“I saw it as a fait accompli — not that I liked it — but dad said we can stand by and let it happen, or give it our best shot,” said Bryce.

“I think he was comfortable that we had given it a real shot, even though we were unsuccessful.

“We walked the walk, and I feel good about that.

“He was the illustration of a determined man who loved and cared for his family and his city,” said Bryce.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Mayor Peter Fassbender announced Jeffery’s passing, acknowledging the freeman’s contribution to the City of Langley and adding that he will be missed.

Jeffery is survived by his wife Charmaine, who remains in care at Langley Memorial Hospital, as well as his son Bryce, daughter-in-law Marianne, and grandchildren Coralie, 25, Tiffany, 23, and Thomas, 20.

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