Most of the people I have met in my life have not left an impression. Our encounters now reside in the back corners of my mind as a face or name that is disconnected from where or when we interacted. Others, for better or worse, or sheer volume of discourse, have resonated with me. And then there are a select few, for whom I’m a better person for having known.
Pete Spencer was such a man.
I first met Pete years ago when I facilitated the British Columbia Agroforestry Initiative. He had moved from ranching and logging in Vanderhoof to an acreage in Kelowna. He was planting Christmas trees and was looking for advice and connections. I soon realized that he knew a great deal more about agroforestry than his initial questions implied. And, from this first meeting onwards, I came to know Pete as someone who was humble, wise and giving.
In 2010 I joined on with the Environmental Farm Plan (EFP) Program as a Planning Advisor. It was my great fortune to have Pete assigned to me as a mentor and to guide me through my first EFP. Pete had been with the Program since its inception in BC in 2004. His dedication to both agriculture and conservation were deep and unshakable. Prior to my first solo, on-farm EFP we had coffee together for a final briefing session. He told me he felt like he had nothing worthwhile to teach me. But I assured him that my many years in universities would be of secondary importance to gaining his people skills. Conservation is much more of social process than technical or scientific. And in the agricultural realm, Pete Spencer was peerless in bringing people together around a common goal.
Pete was pragmatic man who could always see a solution on the ground, through the foggy, chaotic melieu that land use planning can be in British Columbia. He was a master of finding compromises and building consensus. He approached ever situation with a warm smile, a handshake and an open mind. Always ready to make the best of whatever situation he faced.
Pete listened to everyone. And he didn’t enter a room with his own agenda, other than trying to find a workable solution for all involved. Where others come to meetings to press some perceived advantage or pivot the conversation to present a sales job on their own pet project, Pete Spencer first listened and then questioned to gain understanding from all involved before offering his opinions. He was a master of collaboration.
Pete was a champion for conserving streams, rivers, riparian habitats, species-at-risk and other natural values. In so doing, he often had to convey some hard realities to growers, farmers and ranchers about their agricultural practices. But he was gifted in finding solutions that helped them both steward their land and sustain their production. Taking land out of agricultural production for a preserve or a park is easy. Pete chose to work the harder ground of promoting farming and ranching that sustains natural functions and food production alike.
From our early conversations and through many professional interactions, my respect for Pete grew with each meeting. As time passed, we would frequently exchange ideas or serve as each other’s sounding board when we encountered novel situations. Pete’s generousity with his time was seemingly boundless. He was deeply involved within and outside his community. And he was always trying to do his part to make things better.
Pete was also a man of great humour. It was a joy to be with him when he shared anecdotes and jokes over drinks. He had a remarkable gift to be able to find the lighter side of every situation, however challenging. Pete was a light-hearted, roll-with-punches kind of man. And his good humour and ever pleasant demeanor is what I will remember the most about him.
Pete, my friend, you will be dearly missed.