Gipp Forster, the founder of the Mustard Street Church and food bank, died Monday — his birthday — at age 76.
He had been suffering from cancer of the esophagus.
Forster, an ordained minister, worked the streets serving Victoria’s down and out. He loved Christmas, looked like Santa and the Ponderosa Place home he shared with wife Donna was a highlight for those on Christmas light-up tours.
He was regular contributor to Senior Living magazine.
And he exhibited his flair for storytelling on the radio program Ramblings, carried on CFAX as well as other stations in Canada and the U.S.
“When I came to Victoria in the 1970s, he was a street pastor. Then he brought together the idea of a church, which would become the Mustard Street Church and, from it, an offshoot was the food bank,” said Mel Cooper, former owner of CFAX.
Later, Cooper hired Forster to spin tales on the radio, and this was a perfect fit for the natural storyteller.
“They were well thought out,” Cooper said. “He was quite a good writer with a marvellous way of presenting.”
Forster met his wife, Donna, when she was a volunteer at the Mustard Seed food bank.
“He was just amazing,” Donna said Tuesday. “From my perspective, he was the kind of guy I wanted to get to know and when I saw him, I knew I was going to marry him.”
They were married for 23 years.
Donna describes Gipp as “probably the most gentle man I ever knew. He was supportive — he let me fly.”
His greatest achievement was establishing the Mustard Street Church and food bank, she said. Sister churches sprang up in Calgary and Edmonton.
He cared about street people, Cooper said.
“Gipp was aware of the problems. He’d seen them. He cared for people who were in jeopardy or had problems,” Cooper said. “This was his way of life. He didn’t work for money.”
Former CFAX announcer Barry Bowman said that Forster was “almost a brother to me.”
“He was one of the most humble, self-effacing men you’d ever meet and he was constantly surprised at attention he received,” Bowman said.
“He wasn’t aware of the impact he made in this community and that impact was giant.”
Forster served the disenfranchised people of Victoria in alleys and doorways, hoping to make a positive impact on their lives.
“He was helping people that nobody else would approach,” Bowman said.
While his heart ached for those facing so much need, it sang when the festive season arrived.
Everybody who knew Forster knew how much he loved Christmas. Aside from the spectacular decorations at his home, Gipp often played Christmas music in his car all year-round, Bowman said.
“He had almost a child-like wonder of what was going on in life,” Bowman said. “He embraced a lot of fantasy of what was once good and wholesome.”
On his website, Forster seemed philosophical about aging, saying he had “developed a quiet acceptance of circumstances and trials that seem to pop up without warning, and a sense of humour to make the best of a bad situation.”
A memorial service is planned for April 26 at Gateway Baptist Church, starting at 1:30 p.m.