Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Passing The Torch On

© By Othmar Vohringer

(Originally published in the Merritt News)

When I spoke with Bill Otway a few weeks ago in preparation of this column as a tribute to one of British Columbia’s leading and most recognized conservationists, living right here in Merritt, I had no idea that it would become his obituary.

In the early hours of Sunday October 17, Bill Otway, 75, passed away at Gillis House after fighting bravely his last battle with cancer. Bill battled cancer for many years as vigorously and with the same determination as he fought for wildlife conservation and the rights of hunters and anglers.

To list all of Bill’s achievements here would fill several pages, if not the entire Merritt News. Bill’s journey to become the “Field Marshal” of conservation started when he still was a teenager. Living in Port Coquitlam at the time Bill became aware of fishery problems caused by the CPR dumping oil directly into the river system. In 1954, as a result of this the Port Coquitlam & District Hunting & Fishing Club was formed and Bill was one of the founding members.

Throughout his lifetime Bill served in various capacities on the boards of many notable conservation organisations. Bill was an influential mainstay of the BC Wildlife Federation and its executive director for many years. I met Bill the first time when my wife and I moved to Merritt and joined the Nicola Valley Fish & Game Club. I had the distinct privilege to work together with him on the board of directors and on projects like the Family Fishing Day and the Angling Ambassador Program.

Bill Otway served for many years as the recreational fisheries adviser and ombudsman for the DFO (Department of Fishery and Oceans of Canada). During his years with the DFO Bill traveled extensively and was always advocating the recreational fishery as an integral part of a sound conservation program. At the time Bill’s work was ground breaking since most governments concentrated entirely on the commercial fishery.

After leaving the DFO Bill became instrumental in the launching of the Sportfishing Defence Alliance, formed largely in response to government bureaucracy and party political agendas. Bill’s tireless efforts and commitment to conservation, and advocacy of hunters and anglers, has changed much in the policies of this resource. Bill received many awards and honours for his work and loyal dedication but to him this was never a reason to rest on his laurels. Right up to his death he fought for hunters, anglers and conservation issues. We all owe Bill a great measure of gratitude for what he has done for all of us. His death has left a huge gaping hole and big shoes to fill. Bill has passed the torch on to us and it is now up to each of us to continue in Bill’s spirit to ensure a future for wildlife and our outdoor heritage. Bill Otway is no longer with us but in my heart he will remain alive and be my guiding light. Rest in peace my friend.


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