History’s unsung hero

It’s difficult to imagine being part of an organization or even a profession for more than half a century, but this summer the longest serving member of the Touchstones Museum board stepped down.

Alan Ramsden has been a vital figure in the preservation and promotion of this area's history.

It’s difficult to imagine being part of an organization or even a profession for more than half a century, but this summer the longest serving member of the Touchstones Museum board stepped down.

Alan Ramsden, who was also the past museum director, was on the board for 56 years and stepped down in April only due to new term limits set in 2005.

“I was a little overwhelmed when I first met Alan,” said current Touchstones executive director Leah Best. “I had just been hired and moved here from Vancouver, so I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by the information and the weighty responsibility of taking on the role of executive director.”

Best said Ramsden was “lovely and welcoming” and reassured her that everything would work out and that she would do a good job.

“It seems obvious but he was a real fatherly figure,” she said.

Best said she would describe Ramsden to those who don’t know him as “wise, kind, generous, with a clear memory of 56 years of service, humble, and he really wants to serve our organization and our community.”

One of Best’s fondest memories of working with Ramsden was sitting down with him, Donna Macdonald, and David Dobie to do an interview on the logistics to get the museum into its former location on Anderson Street.

“It was very enlightening for ourselves and the city, to see how much the society at the time had contributed in terms of building the museum. He really does represent the organizational memory for us,” she said.

With Ramsden’s departure, Best herself has now been sitting around the board table the longest.

“When Alan left, that’s 56 years of organizational memory, and now it’s left to me and I only have six years,” said Best.

Before Best was hired, Shawn Lamb had been the  museum’s only employee, which meant the board had to be much more hands on.

“When we were doing all the planning for the move to the new site, part of that was a new governance model where we set stipulations for board term limits. That was why he had to step down, [otherwise] he would have stayed on,” Best said.

Directors only have to step off the board for a year before they can rejoin, and Best said she “wouldn’t be surprised” to see Ramsden rejoin.

Even though Ramsden has no official role at the museum, he still comes in almost every day.

“He comes by and brings us presents. He brings magazines and he’s been a wonderful supporter not only in terms of his volunteerism, but also they’ve also been great donors to the organization,” said Best.

Ramsden’s red racer sled has even become part of the museum’s collection.

“He told me this story of when he was a boy and he and his buddies would race down Stanley Street from the top to the bottom in the winter, and the trick — so as not to kill yourself — is to not get your racer’s skids caught in the streetcar rails because if you did, you were in trouble. I asked ‘well, what about the streetcar?’ and Alan just said ‘oh yeah that was no problem.’ I think as a boy he got into a lot of trouble. He has some great stories,” said Best.

Lamb, former project director and archivist for Touchstones, said Ramsden is “just one of those people who wants to see things done. It’s not all about him.”

“There are people like him in the community who are these unsung heroes who do so much, and want nothing in return. He’s a very special guy,” said Best.

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