LANTZVILLE — When an ambulance arrived at Ken Spence's Lantzville home to take him to palliative care, the 69-year-old refused to be carried out on a stretcher. He told paramedics if it was the last time he would be leaving his home, he would walk out under what strength he had left.
"Well that's Ken isn't it?," retired Lantzville fire chief Tom Whipps said as he relayed the story. "It took him a bit, all the strength he had, but he walked out of his own home and into the ambulance. If that isn't guts and strength I don't know what is."
Spence passed away last week after battling cancer, without treatment, for more than a year.
Spence devoted 52-years of continuous service as a volunteer for Lantzville Fire Rescue, first joining the department as a 16-year-old in 1966. He was beloved in the small seaside district for his unwavering commitment to the community. Spence was well-known as the driver of the hay wagon at the annual Minetown Day celebration and leader of the fall fireworks display, among many other things.
Whipps said when Spence was diagnosed with the disease over a year ago, he was told he had two-or-three months to live.
"He said 'we'll see about that.' I've never known a tougher man. And I don't mean bar room tough. I mean able to endure. That came through in fighting his disease," Whipps said.
Whipps, who worked alongside Spence for more than three-decades with Lantzville Fire Rescue, said Spence's years of continuous service went "above and beyond," noting he served every role possible within the department.
"To this day, his practices are kind of legendary. Everybody recognizes that...What we said about Ken's practice was 'expect the unexpected.' That would be, I think, his legacy. He was passionate about training."
Recognition for his contributions was not something Spence craved, Whipps said.
"The Spence way, to me, was 'I'm just here to do a job. I'll do it well but I don't talk about it.'"
Lantzville Fire deputy-chief John Marment told NanaimoNewsNOW Spence was a great mentor for the district's firefighters and will be sorely missed.
"He was a role model. That's the only way I can describe it. He was an icon and if everybody was like him, the world would be a different place," Marment said. "I'm going to miss him. I've known him 25-years and it's hard for me right now. He's not suffering anymore, that's all I can think."
Lantzville mayor Colin Haime described Spence as an integral part of the community and said his passing leaves a large gap.
Spence was one of only two people to ever be awarded the district's highest honour, named a Freeman of the District in 2016.
"Ken Spence is somebody who fully reflected the ideals the award itself is created for," Haime said.
Spence is survived by his wife of 42-years Patricia, his three daughters Gina, Cindy and Kendra and eight grandchildren.
"He was a kind, gentle man. So funny, full of the typical dad jokes. He loved us girls so much and would move mountains for us," Kendra Spence said.
On Spence's wishes, there will be no celebration of life. Instead, the district will hold a fireworks display in his honour.
Whipps said the department's original 1956 truck will bear Spence's name on the side of the door.
The glove box will bear another name for the man many consider a hero.
"Patty always called him her 'Macho Man,'" Whipps said. "I asked her if we could have that stenciled on the glove box door in the truck. She was quite excited about that."
On Twitter: @domabassi
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