Langley school district communications director loses battle with cancer

Sandy Wakeling packed a lot into his 42 years. He was named Pitt Meadows Citizen of the year earlier in 2013.

Langley School District communications director and the 2013 Pitt Meadows Citizen of the Year Sandy Wakeling died Saturday of a rare form of cancer. He was only 42.

The date has been set for a memorial service. It will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 7 at 3 p.m., at South Bonson Community Centre in Pitt Meadows.

Everyone’s invited — and the more the better, says his wife, Ali Wakeling.

Because that’s just the way Sandy wanted it.

The community volunteer, Canadian history buff, supporter of public education and political organizer loved community events, Ali said Tuesday.

Sandy died of a rare cancer called gastrointestinal stromal tumour, after several years fighting the condition. He took a medical leave from his job in Langley in June.

“He is going to leave a huge void in our district that will be our challenge to fill,” said Langley district superintendent Suzanne Hoffman on Tuesday. “He was a thoughtful person who brought so much to Langley. He moved the district forward in opening up our communication. He engaged the community.

“He was always on top of his game, the hardest worker and his job was his joy in that he would come out to events because he wanted to be part of the community, even when he wasn’t on the job,” said Hoffman.

He was hired in Langley a year and half ago. He worked closely with the local media and set up the district so it had a Facebook page and other social media outlets like Twitter. He kept the district’s webpage active, allowing parents to provide feedback on important issues online.

On his personal Twitter account, Liberal MLA Shirley Bond wrote that it was Wakeling who encouraged her to first run. He also encouraged Christy Clark to run for premier.

“He truly was a Canadian and proud to be a Canadian. He loved John A. MacDonald and celebrated the John A. MacDonald day,” Hoffman said.

According to his wife Ali, a gastrointestinal tumour can be treated, but usually the cancer cells become resistant to chemotherapy.

Since March, Sandy had joined in two drug trials with the B.C. Cancer Agency that were tough physically and emotionally, but which he wanted to go through so that future patients could benefit.

Ali said in his final days, Sandy continued to lobby on behalf of patients to gain access to “orphan” drugs and spoke with MP Randy Kamp on the issue.

“He never took a sick day. He never took a sick day from his cancer. He had minimum recovery and then he’d be back at work. He had an incredible work ethic,” said Ali, an elementary teacher in Pitt Meadows.

He also spent five years as chair of the Pitt Meadows Economic Development advisory committee and another year when it transitioned to the Economic Development Corporation.

He served as the director for the chamber of commerce and spent two years on the Pitt Meadows official community plan review committee.

“He was a friend to many, a supporter and a believer in building community,” Pitt Meadows Mayor Deb Walters said.

As a supporter of the BC Liberal party, Sandy was key in the recruitment effort to get Clark to put her name into the race for the Liberal leadership in 2011. Sandy started a Facebook campaign, which drew hundreds of supporters and persuaded Clark to enter the race, acknowledged BC Liberal party executive director and former campaign manager Mike McDonald.

“The other thing is Sandy’s own credibility. He’s a guy who’s well-known and well-respected,” McDonald said.

“He’s a true grassroots BC Liberal.”

Previously, Sandy was the constituency assistant to former MLA Ken Stewart and was executive assistant to Health Minister Mike de Jong.

“You always had the impression that he put his community first,” McDonald added.

“As important as his political contributions were over the years, it always seemed to be in service of his community.”

Clark also called him recently, while McDonald visited Sandy last week, and noticed the Canadian flag outside his house.

“He really was a great guy,” McDonald said.

“The premier was very fond of him and was definitely very saddened by the loss.”

Most Pitt Meadows residents will remember Sandy as one of the faithful organizers of the Terry Fox Run, which starts off in Hammond Stadium every September.

Sandy first started helping in 2000 before his cancer. Terry Fox was Sandy’s hero, as he was to Ali.

“It was something we had in common. We’ve been doing it for 19 years and I never missed a run.”

This year, Ali is hoping people donate $42 to the run, the age at which Sandy lost his battle.

In addition to politics and education and fighting cancer, Sandy loved Canada and its history, his wife added.

“He’s got a collection of artifacts and figurines that make supposedly dull Canadian history come to life.”

He also wanted to drive across Canada from one end to the other, starting in Newfoundland and heading west.

“He really wanted to do that trip. He used to watch these shows about national parks and he always wanted to go and see all those things.

“I think that was one of my greatest disappointments is that he never got a chance to do that.”

Ali, though, plans on doing that next year, and bringing their two sons, William, 11, and Sebastien, 9 .

Sandy wanted his ashes spread along the highway from coast to coast.

— With files from Phil Melnychuk, Maple Ridge News

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