ROTHENBURGER – Dave Gracey was a man who made a big difference

One of the few “serious” photos Dave Gracey posted of himself on Facebook.

A LOT OF Dave Gracey’s friends are hoping he’ll put up a post on his Facebook page that news of his death is greatly exaggerated, apologizing for the joke, or saying he lost a bet and had to start the rumour.

Sadly, there will be no such reassurance. David Gordon Gracey died one week ago, on Monday, Aug. 21 in his home in Japan, where he’d lived and worked for more than 10 years.

As friends in Kamloops got wind of the news, it was belatedly shared around on Facebook this past weekend. With no formal announcement, the lack of details made it all the harder to believe. There was speculation that it was a heart attack, but the real cause is expected to be confirmed later this week as diabetic ketoacidosis.

A friend of Dave’s in Japan told me late Sunday that an official announcement will be made after governmental paperwork is completed. He described Dave’s death as “sudden and unexpected,” calling it “a huge loss.”

I got to know Dave when we were on Kamloops City council together from 1999-2002. During the campaign, I began seeing his election signs around town, with the slogan “Able to Think.”

It was an apt self-description. He was analytical but he was also creative, a big man with a big toothy smile and an infectious laugh who possessed exceptional integrity, a love of politics, inspiring energy, a quirky and often self-deprecating sense of humour, and lots of ideas.

I remember one idea in particular. In my City Hall office, he and I were discussing civic politics and ways to promote Kamloops, when he started musing about the “Tournament Capital of B.C.” slogan, which was at that time the City’s marketing brand.

“Why should we settle for B.C.?” he said, or words to that effect. “Why don’t we go for all of Canada?”

One thing led to another and the rest, as they say, is history. Kamloops became the Tournament Capital of Canada. Adding new sports and recreational facilities to go with the brand came a few years later but Dave Gracey’s name is written on the idea.

When I say he had exceptional integrity, those aren’t just words you use to describe someone after they die. He had an honesty and sincerity about him that I’ve seen in few people.

Dave Gracey in Japan, being Canadian.

“That’s just not right,” he’d say when something — very often something political — offended his sense of right and wrong.

Many people will have funny memories about their times with Dave. One of mine is the time he and I did a promotional event for the Kamloops synchronized swim club. We worked out a routine where he’d fall into the pool and I’d shout, “I’ll save you, Dave!” and jump in after him, after which we’d do a couple of synchronized maneuvers we’d practiced.

Unfortunately, Dave was a lousy swimmer, and when I jumped in and looked around, he was heading for the side of the pool.

It was a surprise when Dave didn’t run for a second term. I think he felt constrained by the realities of local government. His view of politics was that it should be used to get good things done, that it should be a tool, not a struggle.

He liked to try different things. His hobbies included karate, chess, sports, music and a lot of reading. He owned and managed an employment agency in North Kamloops near where the transit exchange is now. After his time on council, he co-hosted a program on CFJC called Facing Chaos, with Richard Woods. He went back to school and, in June 2005, got a Bachelor of Journalism degree.

He took TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) training at TRU and went off to Japan. Dave had been introduced to Japan during one of our City delegations to our sister city, Uji, and he clearly loved the place. During that first trip, in 2001, he was anxious to get out and experience the culture rather than being restricted to official functions.

When he returned there to live and work in 2005, living in Chiba, a suburb of Tokyo, he became so good at teaching that he began teaching the teachers. Part of that was a system called Jolly Phonics, developed by a U.K. educational company, and he was one of only a handful of people in the country to hold multiple certifications as a professional trainer in phonics, grammar and music.

Dave became executive director of Phonics in Japan and assistant director of a language school.

He never lost his love of Kamloops — his home town — and was proud of Canada, and his Facebook posts showed it. They also showcased his humour as he posted, almost daily, slices of Japanese life, often funny, sometimes just bits and pieces of things. It might be a cherry tree, a shot of a subway train, or pigeons on a sidewalk.

It’s hard to find a serious photo of Dave on his Facebook page because most of the pictures he posted of himself are in goofy costumes or funny hats, or short photo-shopped videos of himself doing something silly.

Dave Gracey touched a lot of people. Reactions to his death are heartfelt, reflecting a deep sorrow at the loss of this fine human being.

“You challenged us, loved us and were one of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” Steven Puhallo, executive director of the North Shore Business Improvement Association, wrote on the weekend.

“The world has lost one of the greatest people who ever lived,” wrote another friend, Sahra Hues.

Matt Silver said this in his Facebook post: “From the discussion about politics to sushi lunches to that unrivalled sense of humour, every moment with Dave was fun.”

So it was. Dave was a guy who made a difference, in many ways. He would have been 51 on Sept. 11. A memorial service is being planned in Japan, and another here.

Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, former school board chair, former editor of The Kamloops Daily News, and a current director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He was awarded the Jack Webster Foundation’s lifetime achievement award in 2011. His editorials are published regularly on CFJC Today and he appears Wednesdays on the CFJC-TV evening news with his Armchair Mayor commentary. Contact him at


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7 Comments on ROTHENBURGER – Dave Gracey was a man who made a big difference

  1. I remember seeing David when his parents Bob and May Gracey adopted him in Nanaimo I was at his christening ! He was a beautiful little guy.So very sorry to hear of his passing

  2. Pierre Filisetti // August 28, 2017 at 1:38 PM // Reply

    Didn’t know him in depth but I remember the slogan and that he was a one term councillor.
    The tribute is outstanding.
    Condolences to friends and family.

  3. Thank you for writing this Mel.

    Growing up on the same street as Dave, his personality was always larger than his physical stature. Being a year older, we were never in the same class at school so I didn’t get to know him as well as the guys his age around the Cardinal Drive neighbourhood. I’m finding his passing a big loss, so I can only imagine how absolutely gutted his buddies from the ‘hood must be this week. My most sincere condolences to all of them and his family.

    His passing has caused me to reflect on those years growing up in the simple seventies. I don’t remember Dave *not* living up the street, so his family must have moved into what was a new subdivision quite early too. In a neighbourhood of white families of mostly UK descent, we thought cultural or ethnic diversity (if the term existed then – I’m thinking it didn’t…) was the white European family that didn’t speak English as their first language. So Dave definitely stood out! I recall only two other families in the school as being visible minorities – we were so incredibly culturally-naive!

    The only reason I mention this is, I think it’s a great loss that we didn’t get a book out of Dave, describing his perspective on his life. I don’t remember racism being an issue for him – he was just ‘Dave’ to all of us kids – but I’m not naive enough to think he didn’t experience it and suffer adversities as a result. And perhaps that’s at least in part where his rapier wit came from – a defense mechanism of sorts. He did so many different things as an adult too, that he must have had a treasure trove of experiences and anecdotes that would have easily filled a book. I can only imagine some of his misadventures… and find myself chuckling at the thought!

    What I do know for sure is, his sense of humour was waaaay to large for the skinny kid he was back then. It made sense that he grew into the big man that he did, if only to contain all of the ha-ha! He had an amazing ability to make people laugh and many of his Facebook posts suggested he had developed something of a fan-following in Japan… which was hardly surprising – he was Dave after all!!

    That laugh of his will echo for a long time.

  4. Lawrence Beaton // August 28, 2017 at 9:18 AM // Reply

    Great words, Mel. The world that knew Dave have lost a great humanitarian and a person who cared for the world in which he lived.

  5. Thanks Mel, this was a nice tribute to Dave.

  6. Tricia sellmer // August 28, 2017 at 6:51 AM // Reply

    Beautifully written Mel.
    You have captured Dave’s spirit.
    Thank you

  7. Great words. Dave has been one of my best friends since I moved to Japan 10 years ago. Two Kamloops boys. Like most people who knew him, I’ll miss him very much.

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