Johnstone given Nanaimo’s highest civic honour

NANAIMO – Former city councillor Diana Johnstone has been named Freeman of the City, the highest civic honour the city can bestow.

New Freeman of the City Diana Johnstone was still smiling ear-to-ear and dabbing away tears Tuesday as she talked about receiving the city’s highest civic honour.

“I think it was probably the biggest highlight of my life,” she said. “I am just over the moon happy.”

Johnstone, a two-term city councillor, became the 32nd Freeman of the City on Monday, joining the ranks of John Barsby, Frank Ney and Muriel McKay Ross for her leadership and volunteerism in the community.

The title, last awarded in 2010, is only given in exceptional cases for lifetime achievement and has to be unanimously agreed upon by city council. Its winner gets a lifetime of free city parking.

“We do not give away this honour lightly,” said Mayor Bill McKay. “For over 30 years, Diana’s presence and commitment has touched the lives of many individuals … she is a true leader in every sense of the word.”

Johnstone, wearing a blue dress and white corsage, accepted the framed recognition and medal to a standing ovation during a council meeting Monday night, calling it a tremendous honour and thanking people for the nomination.

“I am not a native daughter, however, from the time my family arrived here on transfer with the RCM Police in 1982, I knew I was home and would never want to leave,” said Johnstone, who served on more than a dozen committees and as a volunteer for organizations like Tourism Nanaimo, Canada Games and B.C. Disability Games.

Volunteering is part of Johnstone’s being and something instilled in her by her mother but it was her husband and his decision to retire that allowed her to remain and do what she enjoys in Nanaimo.

It was love at first sight for the two high school sweethearts from Edmonton. He was an act-tough kind of guy with a big duck tail, pants with a long chain and a gang that all wore orange jackets, who invited her to take a seat on his lap when she couldn’t find an empty chair in the classroom. Johnstone said he was cute, and with three brothers she wasn’t afraid of guys, so she took him up on the offer.

Later, she put her chance at a career as a recreation administrator on hold to follow him around the country for his work with the RCMP. Nanaimo ended up being the best posting she’d ever had, she said, adding her children were all close and she was having “great fun” as the operations manager and event planner for Tourism Nanaimo.

When they got notice of Jack’s transfer, it was the first time she balked at a posting.

“He could see that I really wanted to have a chance, so finally he just said, we are not going to move,” she said. “He retired in order that I could have a chance to do what I loved to do.”

Her husband watched from the gallery as she got her award. It’ll be cherished, she said, adding she hopes to continue to serve Nanaimo.