Ken Agate was pretty comfortable in his iconic Oak Bay restaurant at the corner of Oak Bay and Monterey avenues, The Blethering Place Tea Room.
He was so comfortable, in fact, that he was known to pop down to the restaurant — he lived in an apartment above — in his pyjamas and slippers and chat with the customers.
Agate, who died of cancer Sept. 11 at the age of 79, was more known for dressing up than down, however.
“Ken loved to dress up to the nines, sometimes including a top hat and tails,” said long-time friend Chris Gannon.
Other friends recall Agate dressing up as an English policeman, complete with classic helmet, and handing out mock traffic tickets at events.
Former Oak Bay mayor Christopher Causton said Agate, who ran the Blethering Place from 1979 to 2011, was a fixture in Oak Bay Village.
He is also remembered for starting the Oak Bay Collector Car Festival in 1999.
“He had a flamboyant style — a kind of style that you cannot find these days.”
Born 1944, in Suva, Fiji, Agate grew up in and around Auckland, New Zealand. He fell in love with Victoria after a chance visit and moved here in 1979.
He became a restaurateur by chance, after noticing a retail space for rent in the municipality’s oldest commercial building, at 2250 Oak Bay Ave.
Despite having no experience in the hospitality industry — he previously ran a hair salon and bred and trained German shepherds — he thought the location was perfect for a restaurant.
He chose the name “blethering” — or talking — because he saw the restaurant as a neighbourhood gathering place.
“It was a popular meeting place over the years, where people and groups of people would come for their meetings, celebrations and occasions,” said longtime friend Vic Smith. “Ken being Ken, his patrons soon became his friends.”
Most people who met him have a story to tell.
Paul Coppard, then in his mid-20s, was planning to marry his fiancée, Andrea, in 1995. Saddled with student loans, they were looking for an affordable place to hold their reception when they met Ken at The Blethering Place.
“For the price of the food on the menu, Ken portioned off his restaurant. He also offered up one of his vintage cars to take us to and from the venue, and personally chauffeured us for the day,” said Coppard. “Andrea’s wedding gown and my tuxedo matched the vintage of the car. It was a perfect wedding day.”
Joan Stein, who with Mark, her late husband, met Agate about 10 years after he opened his restaurant, said Agate had a big heart. “We helped him put on a Christmas dinner, which would serve a free turkey meal to up to 600 people over six hours.”
That tradition started in 1995 and continued until the restaurant closed in 2011.
Duncan Murphy, a fellow Oak Bay businessman and member of Oak Bay Tourism, said Agate was positive to the end.
“I was visiting him while he was receiving treatment for his cancer and asked him, ‘How’s it going?’ He said: ‘It’s going pretty well. I can’t complain.’ ”
Agate was recognized by the District of Oak Bay with one of the municipality’s first Oak Leaf Awards in 2014.
He had a succession of vintage and collectible vehicles, but his pride and joy was his beloved green 1938 Dodge Deluxe Touring Sedan — the same vehicle used in Coppard’s wedding — and featured as the logo of the Oak Bay Collector Car Festival.
The vehicle, a right-hand-drive model, was shipped from New Zealand when he emigrated to Canada.
Gannon said he took Agate to visit his old car in early July, a few weeks before the last car festival.
“We started her up and Ken was happy to see that she was ready for the festival,” said Gannon.
Agate leaves a younger sister, Natalie Fisher, who lives in Victoria. He had no children.
At his request, there will be no funeral. In lieu of flowers, people are encouraged to make a donation to the Victoria Hospice, where Agate spent the last three months of his life.
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