Obituary: Joy Leach was Nanaimo's mayor in 1990s

 Joy Leach, Nanaimo's first female mayor, has died.

Leach, who was afflicted by Alzheimer's disease, died at Nanaimo Traveller's Lodge care home at approximately 3:30 p.m. on Monday.

She was 72, according to daughter, Kate Whitehead.

The flag over city hall was lowered at half-mast Wednesday in her honour.

Leach served as a longtime school trustee and also ran her own consulting firm. She served as mayor from 1990 until 1993.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan, called his predecessor "a very confident and assertive professional."

"She was not afraid to make bold decisions and stick with them. Very few things would deter her."

Leach came to office after handily defeating longtime incumbent Frank Ney, a popular civic leader with two decades' experience. Ney had campaigned on the slogan of 'stability and experience,' while Leach focused on the need for better community planning.

"I think people are sharing a feeling that I had that we had to have a clearer understanding of what shape our community should have in the future," she said shortly after her win.

Leach went on to spearhead the 'Imagine Nanaimo' project, the precursor to the city's official community plan.

The process gave citizens the first chance for direct input into where and what sort of development would take place in the city.

She also presided over a 140 per cent increase in water rates, brought in as part of a shift to cover the full cost of running the water system through usage instead of taxes.

The move is now credited as having led to better water conservation, but Leach took criticism for the move, as well as for a 40 per cent hike in sewer fees. She also came under fire for property tax increases and senior staff salary increases. In the 1993 election, she was attacked for the increases by the Accountability Party, a slate of local candidates backed by Lower Mainland developer Ralph Taylor. The party was calling for a three-year freeze on taxes and fees.

Although the Accountability Party fizzled in the election, Leach lost to independent Gary Korpan, and attributed the result in part to dissatisfaction with fee and tax increases. However, she did not back down on her support for the policies.

"I still think it was a progressive and necessary move," she said after her loss.

But I think that people didn't understand it well. They saw it simply as an increase in taxation."

Besides being mayor, Leach had an extensive record of public service. She chaired the B.C. Round Table on the Environment and Economy, and was also on a task force examining B.C. Ferries operations on Vancouver Island.

In 1994, she was asked to chair the B.C. Public Service Appeals Board. Whitehead described her mother as "a ball of energy and drive" who "lived and breathed politics."

"She just saw the potential of everybody and wanted to bring it out," she said.

A celebration of life is planned for Sept. 12 at 3:30 p.m. at the Oliver Woods Community Centre. Leach is survived by husband Michael Legge, as well as her four children and six grandchildren.

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