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Charlie Lasser: Public service is his pantheon

People of the Peace

Charlie Lasser is a Peace Region legend. 

Though he has always remained true to his ranching and farming roots, he's had his hands in a number of extra curricular activities over the years.

He is the longest serving mayor Chetwynd has ever had, a solitary bullet on a long list that also features service on the Board of Directors at BC Hydro and Northern Lights College, and as president of the Lower Mainland Municipal Association. 

He is one of the founding governors of the University of Northern British Columbia. One of the few university governors in the country to have never attained a high school diploma.

He is the only remaining founding member of the Chetwynd Communications Society, the group that first brought TV stations from across Canada and the United States to Chetwynd, and later radio in the form of Peace FM.

If the public service were a valued endeavour in the mafia, Charlie Lasser would be Chetwynd’s very own Don Corleone. 

But serving on boards and councils were only side projects. 

Lasser is a true cowboy at heart, and has always been tied to the land — watching the field behind the plough turn to straight dark rows throughout his formative years, and later, raising cattle in sustainable, organic ways for specialty food markets in Alberta.

He still ranches today, on a 5,200-acre plot that makes up the main portion of the valley where the town of Chetwynd lies.

The 84 year-old with a family history in Swiss politics, was heavily influenced by his father.

His dad was injured during the Battle of the Somme, and again at Vimy Ridge. He returned home in 1919 and began farming in Westview, Powell River and married his sweetheart in 1920. The couple immigrated to Canada from Switzerland in 1910. 

His father applied for citizenship in 1915 and immediately joined the Canadian Army.

Charlie was born in 1931.

“My father was wounded seven times in the war, plus two gas attacks,” Lasser said. “He wasn’t too well. He had four machine gun bullets across his legs and some [bullets] were still in there. They worked out by around ’38.”

In the 1940s, the Lassers decided they wanted a bigger farm. They moved to Surrey, where his father would spend the rest of the life. 

It was also where Charlie would grow into a man molded in his father’s likeness, instilled with family pride, a sense of civic duty and a horse-like work ethic.

“My father had a photographic memory,” Lasser recounted. “He could recall anything. He would say our family had always been in politics. So it was a natural thing for me to get into.”

As a teen, growing up in Surrey during WWII was a frightening time, he recalled.

“There was a big fear about the Japanese attacking after Pearl Harbour. [We felt] there was nothing stopping the Japanese navy from coming right over,” Lasser said 

When the air raid sirens would sound, he would help his father put up pre-cut tar paper sheets as fast as they could over all of the windows, so they could block the light from escaping and meet the air raid warden’s strict blackout protocols. 

As the youngest child, he was the only one left at home with his mother and father. His two older brothers and older sister joined the armed forces and were in action. 

One of his brothers was killed in 1944. The other two siblings survived.

Lasser was 15 when the war was over. It was a disappointment to him that he didn’t get the chance to fight. He noted that it was “unfortunate” he escaped service in the armed forces. 

At 14, he got his first horse. At 15, he had another and he soon he was making good money.

He made enough by mowing, ploughing, raking hay, hauling hay and pulling logs out of the bush, that he was able to buy his first truck at age 16, and he then entered into the trucking business. 

Somewhere along the way, Lasser heard of a girl who had moved in with a family nearby.

He knew the family had a ranching and farming background, which was a plus for him.

“I only went with girls with the same background as I had so that it would naturally work out,” he says. 

After befriending her brother, he was finally introduced to Edith.

“The first time he introduced me to Edi, the first thing I thought was — that is going to be the mother of my children. I knew right away.”

Not long after they met, they were engaged. 

Edith finished a three-year nursing course and they were married in 1954.

Shortly after, they bought a farm together in Pitt Meadows near Edith’s grandfather. 

After 20 years on the farm in Pitt Meadows they moved to Chetwynd, arriving in 1974.

While there, Lasser was elected mayor in 1976 and served on and off for 22 years. He would later help form the Chetwynd Communications Society in 1979. 

The first order of business was to get a communications satellite dish, which would cost up to $40,000. Lasser had the idea to approach four businesses and ask for $10,000 each.

“Canfor put up $10,000 no problem. So, I phoned up the finance office of Westcoast Transmission (now Spectra Energy) in Vancouver and asked for a $10,000 grant and was told no.”

He is not ashamed to admit that he used his political clout to get the money.

“I told them look, ‘you are just getting your [gas] plant started here [in Chetwynd] and if there is a problem and you don’t give us the grant, I am going to make sure you don’t forget it’.”

When the person on the other end of the line claimed that sounded like blackmail, Lasser replied plainly, “it is.”

As he tells it, five days later, they received a cheque for $10,000.

“He didn’t realize the first VP was a friend of mine,” Lasser chuckled. “We were going to get it one way or another.”

——— — — 

In 2014, Charlie and Edith celebrated 60 years of marriage. 

Above all else, family is the most important thing for Lasser. He and Edith still meet every Sunday morning for breakfast with their daughter and two sons. 

“Family is everything. It’s the most important thing you can have. I would do anything for my children and I know they’d do the same for us.”

His public service legacy is his pantheon, and there is a lesson in that.

“You can do two things in life,” he says, “you can either build a great big cement monument to yourself, which means absolutely nothing. Or, you can make a place a little bit better.

“Five years after you die, people won’t even know who you were. But you know yourself, forever you will be part of a lasting legacy.”

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