Whether playing the role of emcee at community events, providing guidance and emotional understanding to firefighters in distress, or moving his congregation to be the best it can be, Rev. Bill Gibson is a man of the community, for the community.
It's because of his devotion to the community that the Town of Windsor recently surprised Gibson with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. Gibson is one of just 60,000 Canadians to be presented with the special commemorative medal. The prestigious medal is a way to honour the Queen's service to the country while celebrating the significant contributions and achievements of Canadians.
“When you look at the community and those pillars of the community, Bill is certainly one of them,” said Mayor Paul Beazley following the Sept. 30 presentation.
“If there's a significant community event, Bill is there. He's there with bells and whistles on and playing whatever role he is asked to play and able to play.”
Just this week, Gibson resumes his role as auctioneer for the Hants Community Hospital Auxiliary's Party with a Purpose gala fundraiser.
Gibson said he was completely unaware the town had nominated him for the award when they presented the medal during his morning sermon.
“It was a total surprise. They walked through the door just after I started the service,” said Gibson.
“I thought it was somebody in this congregation that was going to win some accolade,” he said, smiling.
“It's an honour but I don't do this for the honour. I do this to be of service to the community at large and to help people.”
Gibson is beginning his 18th year at Windsor United Church, and has been volunteering his time and talents since his family moved to Windsor 18 years ago. He has been the chaplain for the Windsor Fire Department for 17 years and also serves as a fire safety officer.
“I have the skills to do these things; to emcee banquets, to move people and encourage them and give them some hope. I just try to use those (skills) the best way I can,” said Gibson.
Over the years, Gibson has supported everything from the hospital auxiliary, the Windsor Rotary Club, and the Windsor Lions Club to Christmas Angels and the school's band program.
Gibson credits his congregation for allowing him to play so many roles within the community.
“They've been very supportive. This congregation has about 400 families in it — about 1,000 people — and they free me up to do these community events, to work with the fire department, to emcee the banquets and be involved in (clubs),” he said.
“I really accept (this honour) on behalf of those who are here in this church because they are the people that support me in my day-to-day work.”
“Bill's been there through everything. He's been with us through times of laughter, times of tears and times of hope. When I thought about what makes the heart of a community, my mind went right to Bill Gibson. There was no question.” - Laurie Murley
Beazley said he was proud to be able to present Gibson with the medal, and keep the presentation a surprise.
“He's just one of those people that are so valuable to our community,” said Beazley. “He's an absolutely worthy recipient.”
It's a sentiment that both Deputy Mayor Laurie Murley and Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess shared following the presentation.
“It comes down to this: The heart of the community resides in its residents. In order to have a successful community, a shared emotional connection is essential. So, who has done that for us?” said Murley. “Bill's been there through everything. He's been with us through times of laughter, times of tears and times of hope. When I thought about what makes the heart of a community, my mind went right to Bill Gibson. There was no question.”
Murley said Gibson is a role model in the community and has an uncanny ability to connect with every generation.
“It's amazing. He just has a wonderful way with all ages,” she said, noting that “people feel very, very comfortable to go to him with issues and problems and just things that they would like some help with. He's there for them.”
Burgess likened Gibson to Larry King, the main character in the popular 1970s Canadian television show King of Kensington. In the show, King was a convenience store owner in Toronto's Kensington Market. He was a popular man who was known for helping others solve problems.
“When he walks down the street, everybody waves to him. He's waving. I don't know how he has time to sleep with the amount of stuff he's involved in and the things he does. It's phenomenal,” said Burgess.
“People have no idea of the whole scope of what he does.”
Burgess said Gibson’s dual role with the fire department is crucial.
“At accident scenes, and tragedies, he's there for the families, he's also there for our folks as chaplain,” said Burgess. Gibson is also there to look out for the public's safety, as well as the safety of the volunteers who respond to emergency situations.
“I dread the day that he comes and tells me that he's going to retire because we will never find someone else to fill both roles to the extent he does.”
Gibson said he feels it's important to give back to the area as Hants County has given — and continues to give — so much to him and his family.
“It's part of my wider ministry to this community.”