Today brought the sad news that former Burlington Mayor Walter Mulkewich passed away on February 28.
He was truly one of the most honest people in politics in Burlington and Hamilton as well. To say they don’t make politicians like Mulkewich anymore is an understatement.
He dedicated himself to public service, he showed courage, grace and humility in the face of incredible adversity. He is an example for all of us.
A New Democrat who enjoyed 33 successful years in Burlington politics. For most people, that would mean everything. For Mulkewich, these were only the early chapters of his public service.
He devoted nearly 25 more years to public service after leaving elected politics.
Mulkewich was elected mayor of Burlington twice, in 1991 and 1994.
As mayor, he was a thoughtful defender of Burlington and an intellectual heavyweight among mayors in the Greater Golden Horseshoe.
The Burlington Library scanned Mayor Mulkewich’s 1995 working paper, The Future of Local and Regional Government in Burlington and Halton.
He was expected to easily win a third term in 1997 when he had to leave public office due to a leukemia diagnosis.
Mulkewich announced the news to the media in the living room of his home.
here’s how The Hamilton Spectator described that day at the end of March 1997.
“In the drawing room of his Aldershot home, Mayor Walter Mulkewich indulged in friendly banter with the assembled media. He offered coffee to the small group and talked about the council meeting the day before.
He discussed his political achievements and the expected workload next year, when much of the province’s download is expected to hit Burlington. It was fitting preparation for his early announcement that he would seek another term as mayor.
Everything was discussed with quiet casualness in a relaxed setting.
And then Mulkewich started the press conference. As he read a prepared statement, he seemed to continue the easy discussions he had had with reporters.
Then came the bombshell: he has chronic lymphatic leukemia, a blood disease that weakens the immune system.
There would be no candidacy for re-election. »
Walter Mulkewich wrote the same day to the people of Burlington.
“I have always believed that politicians should only promise what they can deliver and then mobilize government and community resources to deliver on those promises,” Mayor Mulkewich opened in his farewell address.
“I have always been a fighter and throughout my political career I have fought for those things that I believe in. Over the next few years, my fight will shift from politics and municipal government to a fight for my health. I was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia (CLL), a blood disease that weakens the immune system. I intend to fight this disease with the same tenacity that I have applied to political issues.
The three years that followed were more difficult than anyone should ever endure.
He was diagnosed with colon cancer. Then came his toughest battle, a battle he bravely shared with the public.
“Dealing with the death of my wife, Bev, by suicide, just four and a half months after my retirement, has been the main concern for the last two and a half years of my life,” he said. The viewer in an October 2000 interview.
“It was an important part of my journey. I lost my wife to suicide. My life has changed. So I have to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
“We live in a death denying society, where most people are afraid to think death is part of life and therefore don’t want to talk about it or think about it. I learned that you have to deal with it.
“And I became aware of the need for our society to deal with mental illness and suicide.”
Mulkewich’s return to public life in 2000 opened a new chapter for a man who has already contributed more than most.
He spoke with the wisdom he had always been known for.
“Mental illness is one of the fastest growing illnesses in our society. More people suffer from mental illness than from cancer. Yet we do not treat it as a serious illness. And we have to see it as a disease that is no one’s fault and can be treated,” he said in this interview with Spec.
He assumed the role of Co-Chair of Performing Arts Burlington.
He joined the Hamilton Port Authority when it was founded in 2001, becoming HPA President in 2004. He took on the need to clean up Hamilton Harbour, helping secure support and funding of the city of Burlington for the port.
Mulkewich’s leadership and the deep respect he earned in Burlington was the basis for Burlington Council’s 2011 commitment to increase its funding for the Randle Reef cleanup.
Burlington led the way at this critical moment.
Hamilton’s own council was reluctant to increase its own funding share, and the federal government had other priorities.
Burlington increased its own funding contribution, Burlington Councilors brought Halton Regional Council on board to increase its funding for the project.
Hamilton Council followed suit and finally, in December 2012, the federal government announced its contribution.
If Burlington hadn’t taken the lead, would Randle Reef still haunt us today?
His leadership of Shape Burlington, beginning in 2009, helped bring Burlington politics back to the brink of division, exhaustion and frustration.
here is Ryan McGreal’s Summary of the Shape Burlington Initiative from 2010.
Shape Burlington is widely regarded as a benchmark for municipal engagement. His final report can be read here.
During the last years of his tenure as a Burlington City Councilor, Mulkewich worked at the Hamilton Housing Help Center as Executive Director.
He was a career teacher, teaching in many places including Inuvik. He taught at Glendale High School in East Hamilton from 1961 to 1965.
The City of Burlington lowered the flags of City Hall and its municipal facilities in his honour.
- Mayor Mulkewich’s first farewell: As Burlington Mayor Walker Mulkewich yesterday announced he was leaving politics to fight leukemia, he outlined the challenges facing his successor.
Mayor Walter Mulkewich. The viewer; Hamilton, Ont. March 26, 1997: A11.
- Mayor’s Priority: Complete Term: Mulkewich is committed to continuing to be involved in the life of the town.
Fragomeni, Carmela. The viewer; Hamilton, Ont. March 26, 1997: A5.
- Mulkewich back in the spotlight; He survived cancer and the suicide of his wife; now he fights for the arts.
Mironowicz, Margaret. The viewer; Hamilton, Ont. October 07, 2000: A01.