Inspirational Tour de Rock rider Mike Lawless has died of cancer

A Saanich police officer well known for his charitable work has died.

Saanich Sgt. Mike Lawless, 44, died late Sunday afternoon in his Central Saanich home. His wife, Krista, and sons, Tanner, 14, and Ethan, 12, were with him.

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Lawless joined the force in 1995. He worked in patrol and traffic and was noted for his work in the forensic identification unit, where he worked as a constable and later as a supervisor. In 2011, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant.

Saanich Chief Bob Downie, in an email Sunday, said: “It is with great regret and sadness that I must inform you that late this afternoon Mike Lawless passed away after his courageous fight against cancer.”

Former Saanich mayor Frank Leonard posted a tribute Sunday, calling Lawless an “ambassador” for the city.

On Monday, former Saanich Chief Mike Chadwick said: “Mike was a good cop. He was a great father and a great husband. And most importantly, he was a good man.”

Aside from his police work, Lawless rode in the Tour de Rock in 2004. The next year, he joined the tour on its two-week road trip as a support-crew member. He eventually became the support crew’s road boss.

During the tour, riders — municipal, military and RCMP officers and media representatives — pedal 1,000 kilometres from Port Alice in the north end of Vancouver Island to the south in Victoria to raise money for pediatric cancer research and programs that help children and their families, such as Camp Goodtimes.

“Tour supporters, including more than 340 alumni riders, our junior rider team for whom he fought tirelessly, and the 27 Vancouver Island communities he visited year after year, feel the significant loss of a great man,” said Debi Dempsey of the Canadian Cancer Society on Monday.

Since 1998, the tour has raised close to $20 million for the Canadian Cancer Society.

The tour became a deeply rooted cause for the police officer, with the support of his family.

“It became such an emotional thing," Lawless told the Times Colonist in October. "Each year the tour came up, I’d ask my wife: ‘Do you mind if I do tour this year.’ She’d reply: ‘You have to do tour.’”

Lawless was diagnosed in July 2013 with Stage 3 lung cancer.

In 2014, after six months of clear scans, it looked as if he had beaten the disease. He was planning a return to work. In the summer, an MRI showed the cancer had spread to his brain. It was diagnosed as terminal.

Lawless had to withdraw from the 2013 and 2014 tours. His badge number, 25, was taped to each support vehicle and the bikes of the Saanich police riders. There were photos of Lawless high-fiving riders from past tours.

“Mike had a significant impact on the schools and on our junior team in particular,” said Dempsey. “Mike would go in ahead of the tour’s arrival and get the communities and schools pumped up and ready to meet the team.”

In 2013, the first year Lawless was unable to be part of the tour; the first thing asked by all the communities, schools and supporters was “where’s Mike?” Dempsey said.

On the road, as last year’s team gathered in Cathedral Grove, the last stop before the Port Alberni Hump, members team paid tribute to Lawless. It was at that spot that Lawless was known for his most inspiring speeches before riders tackled the ride to the summit.

In October, former Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock riders again paid tribute to the police officer and road boss in a ride called Miles for Mike.

Almost 100 former riders, police officers and media representatives, representing 17 years of teams, went to his home, rode up to the six-foot-five cop and coiled around him.

“I started looking at the faces and having the memories of the years they rode," Lawless said on that day. "There were a lot of faces and a lot of memories so it was overwhelming.”

The event was filled with emotion.

“There’s a couple of people every year who say I was the one person who kept them rolling when they felt like giving up,” Lawless said. “I always thought maybe it was two or three people I touched each year, but I never thought it would be something like this.”

On that day, Victoria Insp. Jamie Pearce, a member of the first Tour de Rock team in 1998, called Lawless “a huge inspiration ... the biggest cheerleader we have."

Retired Saanich Sgt. Gord Gummer called Lawless compassionate and passionate.

Retired Saanich Const. Martin Pepper, one of the tour’s founders who rode in 1998, said the addition of Lawless’ “phenomenal energy” and support changed and bolstered the tour.

Dylan Willows, morning radio host for the Zone and a cancer survivor himself, said Lawless made him want to be a better person, athlete, and tour ambassador.

“As I hugged this larger-than-life guy and told him how much he meant, and how proud I was of him, he looked at me and said, ‘I've been thinking about you a lot and the fight you had to go through’,” Willows said.

“That was Mike Lawless. Close to 100 of us had come to show our love and support for him and his family, and there he was telling me how my struggles long past had been on his mind.”

Former Oak Bay police chief Ron Gaudet, former chairman of the tour’s steering committee, said Monday it’s nearly impossible to imagine the tour without Lawless.

“His tremendous passion and contribution to the Tour de Rock will be forever etched in my mind,” Gaudet said. “His energy and enthusiasm speaks volumes for a cause that he so much fought for and believed in.

“How he could motivate and energize school kids of all ages as well as those of us lucky enough to be part of this great cause will be difficult to duplicate. It’s a genuine loss to our community at large.”

The Lawless family asked for privacy Sunday as they grieve, Downie said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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