‘Extremely big-hearted’: Councillors remember late colleague Barry Erskine

Longtime former city councillor Barry Erskine died Thursday at the age of 73.

Erskine, who had been battling a lengthy brain disease, served five terms on council in Ward 11 before he was succeeded by Brian Pincott in 2007.

First elected in 1992, Erskine won his seat by acclamation twice, including in 2004, which was the start to his final term on council. He later ran as an independent candidate in the 2008 provincial election in the riding of Calgary-Elbow and also put his name forth on the mayoral ballot in 2010.

Holding a bachelor of science degree, Erskine was known for his work as an environmentalist and horticulturalist, serving as the host of the popular CHQR radio show “Let’s Talk Gardening” for more than 25 years.

“He cared deeply about the environment, was extremely knowledgeable about the environment and fought to improve environmental protection for our waterways and our tree canopy,” said Coun. Druh Farrell.

Erskine’s son James said the environment was always his father’s greatest passion. He said his dad wanted people to understand why it was so important to protect it.

“He just always went for what he believed in,” James said.

“He had such a full life. I think really what I’m most proud of is he cared about everybody. He cared about the betterment of life for his constituents, his family. He was a people person and he wanted everybody to have the best life possible.”

Alderman Barry Erskine glances at fellow councillors after making a point in council chambers regarding the controversy over amendments to Calgary’s ring road.

But James said his dad was just as much a family man as he was a dedicated public servant.

“Even after his long, long days… he always made sure he got up and got my sister and I to school every morning,” he said. “No matter how long the day was, no matter how late it was he always had the time to give us.”

Remembering her former colleague, Farrell described Erskine as “kind and generous.” She recalled he always wrote with a green pen.

“He was big man, with a really big heart,” Farrell said. “He had his quirks but he cared deeply about people and his city.

“Even if we disagreed, it was always respectful and civil. He lamented the deterioration of politics. What always struck me is he always took time to meet with citizens. Even before I got elected, I had met with him. He was always open and generous with his time and extremely big-hearted.”

Bob Hawkesworth, who served on council alongside Erskine, agreed with that characterization.

“He was, of all the colleagues I knew and worked with, relatively easygoing and kind, never malicious,” Hawkesworth said. “He never held a grudge or any tit-for-tat.”

Calgary Alderman Barry Erskine lounges in a favourite setting of his SW home back in 2003.

Following his council years, Erskine continued teaching horticulture and design at the University of Calgary.

Coun. Ray Jones recalled his passion while serving alongside him. What stood out was “his size, mainly.”

“He was tall. He was always friendly with everybody,” said Jones, adding he nicknamed Erskine “huggy bear.”

“That’s what he reminded me of, is a great big bear. He was friendly and was a nice guy.”

Erskine is survived by his wife Robin and children James and Erin.

James said the family is working out the details of a grant in Erskine’s name to help fund brain research at the University of Calgary.

A funeral service will be held at the McInnis & Holloway funeral home located at 5008 Elbow Drive S.W. on Feb. 26 at 2 p.m.

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