Mel Cooper is staying on board but moving aside

Mel Cooper, who for the past 14 years has led the Telus ­Victoria Community Board, has decided to step aside, but not down, from his position as chair.

The 88-year-old ­philanthropist, who has spent a lifetime being an enthusiast for community projects and his adopted hometown of ­Victoria, said he wants to let some new blood take the reins of the ­organization.

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“I enjoy what I do, and that, more than anything else, has kept me active,” said Cooper. “I’m not tired of what I’m doing, I enjoy being around people and being part of things that are going on.

“But I think it may be time, in some cases, that I turned things over to some younger people.”

Cooper is the founding chair of the Telus Victoria Community Board, created by Telus chief executive Darren Entwistle in 2007.

With Cooper at the helm, the board has handed out in excess of $5 million to 436 charitable organizations in Victoria,

And while 14 years in the big seat would be considered a long run for anyone, Cooper said he has all the fire and energy to remain an active and useful member of the team.

Telus appears to think so, too, as the company has named him chair emeritus of the board to ensure both the board and the community at large will continue to benefit from his experience and guidance.

Entwistle said Cooper has made a profound impact on the Telus Community Boards, its corporate team and the city of Victoria.

“Mel infused our [board] with an unparalleled level of compassion, and I can say without reservation that Mel’s passion, work ethic and commitment to our heartfelt we-give-where-we-live philosophy has left an indelible impact on tens of thousands of citizens in Victoria and beyond,” he said.

Jill Schnarr, Telus’ chief ­communications officer, said Cooper proved to be an inspired choice as the board’s first chair.

“Mel played a pivotal role as one of the key architects in bringing Darren’s aspirational vision to life, which centred around empowering local leaders who know their communities best to make important funding decisions,” she said.

She also noted Cooper is ­legendary in philanthropic ­circles.

“Mel is an icon because he consistently over-delivers, ­making life better for those ­living right here on Vancouver Island,” she said, noting his reach extended to mentoring other Telus Community Board chairs across the country.

“He has a unique ability to integrate his passion for helping people with his ability to ­generate a groundswell of ­support for community projects, building stronger communities,” she said. “Together, Mel and Darren knew that good business meant doing good in the ­community.”

That’s been Cooper’s driving force throughout his career.

After he bought into CFAX radio in 1974, he helped establish the station as a major media player and more importantly as a part of the community.

Cooper, who is the first to admit he likes to be in the centre of everything, spent a career networking, volunteering and sitting on numerous boards — Royal Bank of Canada and B.C. Tel/Telus among them — and developed a reputation as someone who would get things done.

He helped bring the Commonwealth Games to Victoria in 1994 and ensured Expo 86 was a financial success.

And the Newfoundland-born Cooper swears he can still do more.

“I’m 88, but I feel younger,” he said, noting he plans to ­continue to keep his hand in a number of projects around the city, including working with the Telus board, helping with ­development of Telus’s new building in downtown Victoria and on ­projects concerning the ocean that ­surrounds the Island.

“I’ll stay on the board, but I’m moving aside,” he said. “I want to stay around and help where I can. If I have the ability to help, I’m prepared to get to work.”

The Telus Victoria Community Board has created the Mel Cooper Social Innovation in Giving grant, an annual $20,000 grant that will be given to a ­charity making incredible change in the community.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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