If you pass by a bench on the Trans Canada Trail in Tillsonburg, near north Broadway trailhead, take a moment to sit and reflect on the name Brian Stephenson that was unveiled on the weekend.
Rick Cox, Director or Recreation, Culture and Parks for the Town of Tillsonburg welcomed those in attendance Sunday afternoon for a multi-event, ‘combination of things to do, activities to enjoy,’ all part of the first Tillsonburg Trail Festival and the 2019 edition Keep Tillsonburg Beautiful, this year held in conjunction with the Take A Hike Oxford initiative.
“And perhaps most significant of all, a small ceremony to unveil a plaque on a memorial bench,” said Cox, referring to the new Brian Stephenson Memorial Bench.
“That’s a lot going on all in once place at one time. It means that we have something for everyone.”
Cox noted that two summers ago the Town of Tillsonburg, in partnership with Oxford County, opened a new section of the Trans Canada Trail going east from Tillsonburg. A year ago, another section was added between Broadway and Tillson Avenue.
“Both of those projects were important additions to the trail network that the Town of Tillsonburg is pleased to provide to our residents and visitors.”
Tillsonburg Mayor Stephen Molnar spoke about longtime councillor Brian Stephenson and touched on some of his many contributions to council and the community.
“As a Town Councillor, Brian was a tireless advocate for the citizens of Tillsonburg serving on various committees such as the special awards committee, the accessibility advisory committee and the Canada 150 committee,” said Molnar.
“The passion and common sense that Brian brought to his role as councillor was only surpassed, however, by his creative and tireless volunteering throughout the community as a whole. His passion for an inclusive community continues to transform Tillsonburg as a result of his passion and resolve for a local transportation initiative.
“Tillsonburg is a better town thanks to Councillor Stephenson’s service and advocacy,” Molnar concluded. “He is missed by his council colleagues, town staff and the community he served. Gathering here today to recognize Brian’s tireless community contributions is very appropriate since he was a true ‘trail’ blazer and his commitment to passive recreation remains a significant part of the fabric of Tillsonburg. Because of Brian Stephenson… ‘We All Win.'”
“Many special guests here today are family members and friends of Brian Stephenson, someone who personified the best of the community spirit and generosity that Tillsonburg was, and continues to be, built on,” said Cox. “Brian was called to his Creator too soon for us, but he will be remembered in this community for a very long time. The bench that we see here was installed this week in Brian’s honour in a place he worked long and hard to bring into our community’s trail network. Today, we’re going to unveil a plaque so that all who pass by can know how important Brian was to this town.”
“We often hear the term ‘public service’… the term can cover such a wide range of activities that it has become a catch-all,” said Dan Mahony, a longtime friend of Brian who was asked by the Stephenson family to share a few thoughts. “The simplest way for me to define what public or community service really is, is to say that Brian Stephenson was the personal, living embodiment of public service. From the time that Carole and Brian arrived here in Tillsonburg, and he became an elementary school teacher at St. Joe’s… to his sudden and sad passing just a short year ago, he never hesitated to help and support people.
“Brian was chosen Citizen of the Year in 2001, but he could have been voted that honour every year right up to last June.
“To be specific about this particular section of the Trans Canada Trail, you see awaiting your walking, biking, jogging, hiking or equestrian pleasure, Brian had a vital role in it. It was his ongoing perseverance and vision that helped once again to make it a real thing. Not only was he a driving force at the boardroom tables at Town and County meetings, he was one of only a few who actually got out on the land – on boots, bikes or skis, whatever it took – to see, feel, hear and smell the stimulating surroundings that you are sensing right now.
“Your presence here today is a testament of that often heard phrase from Field of Dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ And you have. I think this bench is a fitting way to memorialize Brian because during the many walks and bike rides we had together, he would often say to me, ‘Dan, sit down for a minute on this log or this tree stump, smell the flowers.’ If he were here with us right now we would hear him telling all of us, ‘Sit down here with me for a moment and rest a while.’
“And always remember, respect the rights of others using this great trail,” Mahony concluded. “We can all get along and enjoy it.”
“The message that will be on this bench, in perpetuity,” said Molnar, as Stephenson’s grandchildren Jake and Hannah unveiled the plaque, “it reads, ‘In memory of Brian Stephenson, Councillor 2003-2018, for creating a legacy of inclusion through his vision, passion and love for Tillsonburg, the community he served.”