Tribute to Charles Tathum

September 13, 2016

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Before we entertain our first speaker, would the members please join me in welcoming the family and friends of the late Charles Murray Tatham, MPP for Oxford during the 34th Parliament, who are seated in the Speaker’s gallery: his daughter Charlene Gavel; her husband, Lee; his daughter Pat Garrod; his son Peter Tatham; his daughter-in-law, Patricia Morton, wife of Charles’s late son, Andy; and many friends and family. We welcome you here to the Legislature.


The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): A former parliamentarian, organizer and, also, Speaker in the 35th Parliament, Speaker David Warner is here representing as well.

Mr. Ernie Hardeman: I’m pleased to rise to pay tribute to Charlie Tatham, the member for Oxford from 1987-90. He was a statesman, a dedicated public servant, an environmentalist and a loving husband and father.

On Saturday, the city of Woodstock arranged a tribute to Charlie. It was touching how many family members travelled long distances to be there, including people from British Columbia, California and Alberta. Many of those family members are here today, including three of Charlie’s children—Pat, Charlene and Peter—along with Charlie’s grandchildren, nephews and cousins. I want to say thank you to them and to Charlie’s wife, Millie, for sharing Charlie with the people of Oxford county.

Charlie started his career in the Royal Canadian Air Force and then worked at Woodstock General Hardware with his father and his brother, Sid, but it was serving the people through politics that was his calling. In 1956, Charlie was elected as an alderman and, the next year, became mayor of Woodstock when he was just 32 years old. At that time, Woodstock wasn’t part of Oxford county, but Charlie was always interested in county issues and looking out for the best interests of Oxford as a whole. In fact, Charlie was the first and so far only city of Woodstock politician ever elected as warden of Oxford, and he once told me that it was the nicest job you could have in politics.

I followed in Charlie’s footsteps as warden and then as MPP. Charlie was always one of those people that set an example for others. When I was elected as warden and had to do a warden’s address, I went through the council papers and found his. You can compare mine to that and you will find that there are a lot of similarities.

When we were both in municipal politics, I served with Charlie on the land division committee. After each applicant had left, he would read us a poem that he had created to sum up the situation. Charlie’s poems were well known and when he was elected an MPP in 1987 he brought those poems to Queen’s Park. In fact, in 1988 he sent a Christmas poem out to all the people of Oxford as a Christmas message. He used those poems to bring attention to some of the issues that were important to him, such as high-speed rail. Charlie was always a big believer in railways and that high-speed rail was an important part of dealing with our traffic and environmental problems. As an MPP, he served as the Premier’s representative on the Ontario-Quebec high-speed rail committee. He also chaired a committee that toured around the province and looked at the restructuring of county government. That may ring true to some of the other members of the Legislature, as that went on after Charlie’s time here at Queen’s Park.

Despite his work on municipal issues around the province, the people of Oxford were always his first priority. I remember that when he was MPP we went to a meeting in Brownsville together because there were problems with the water system. There was a huge rainstorm that night, so Charlie observed, “Water, water everywhere and nary a drop to drink.”

The people were understandably frustrated with the lack of water and wanted answers on why it was taking so long and what they could do to get rid of the mayor of the day. Charlie could have easily blamed the mayor for the whole problem, but instead he explained that, before the water system could be rebuilt, it needed provincial funding and approval, which he was pushing for, so the people shouldn’t dump the mayor just yet. Since I was the mayor, I was pretty grateful for that position. But that was typical of Charlie: He put the good of the people before partisan politics. After the Peterson government was defeated, Charlie once again ran for municipal politics because for him it was always about serving the people.

After Charlie retired from his second stint into municipal politics, he and Millie moved to British Columbia, where three of his children lived. He told me that it was the only way that he could really retire and stay out of Oxford’s politics, but it was also keeping a promise to Millie and so that they could be closer to their family.

Of course, being on the far side of the country didn’t stop Charlie from having opinions, and it didn’t keep him from being involved in Oxford’s politics for very long. When I was first elected, every few months I would get a call from Charlie, who had been reading the Woodstock Sentinel Review and wanted more information or to tell me, sometimes, how something should be done, and I really valued those calls.

On Saturday, I heard from the former editor of the Woodstock Sentinel Review that he also had received the calls, and how much they had meant to them. I heard that Ann Ash at the city had been receiving the calls—and Woodstock city councillors. It turns out that from British Columbia, Charlie was even more involved than any of us knew.

Part of that continued involvement was because Charlie had a long-term vision for the future of our community, much like he did for high-speed rail. Many of his ideas only became reality long after he’d moved away, such as the trail along the Thames River and connecting Highway 2 to the 401, but he could see them and the benefits that they would provide to our community.

Charlie wrote a letter to his grandchildren and explained the philosophy that he had inherited from his father, that there are three things in life: “First you arrive, the last thing you do is depart. In between there are a lot of changes, so try to make them on the plus side.” Charlie took that to mean helping people and he made a whole lot of changes on the plus side.

He was an environmentalist long before it was popular and was instrumental in creating the Men of the Trees and the Landsaver Award, which recognized a person for protecting the environment and conserving our soils. His contributions were recognized when the Charlie Tatham Peace Park was named in his honour, and last week were recognized again by putting a bench in Victoria Park, where he used to practise as a cadet.

Charlie was a true gentleman, and everyone who knew him and served with him was better for it. The people of Oxford and the people of Ontario were better for the fact that Charlie served.

As Charlie said in one of the last poems he read in this Legislature, shortly before the 1990 election:

We shall lose their fine talents when they have withdrawn.

We shall always remember the kindnesses shown,

The happiness, sadness of battles long gone.

But the qualities human they have in full measure,

And love for our province we all join together.

Thank you very much for allowing me to participate in his tribute.