Former Vancouver city councillor B.C. Lee dies of cancer

Bar-Chya Lee, who served one term at city hall, was also a stage and film actor

Many knew him as an NPA city councillor, others knew him as a news commentator on Fairchild radio and television programs.

Later in life, Bar-Chya Lee — known more commonly as B.C. Lee — became a stage and film actor.

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His passion and commitment to the performing arts was evident in an email he wrote to the Courier in May 2009. He had just won a part in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song at the Waterfront Theatre.

“I am doing it! I am playing the role of a stubborn father,” he said of his role in the timeless Asian-American musical.

“I am singing, dancing and performing in a musical [at least I tried!!! Director said I am good… well occasionally!!!]. Different stages in my world. Different presentations of my life. Come! Have a good time with us! It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s a good show.”

Lee, who battled cancer for several years, died in hospital Wednesday, surrounded by family and friends. He was in his early 60s.

His death triggered an outpouring of emotion and gratitude on social media, with his friend and former NPA council colleague Elizabeth Ball describing him on Twitter as a “brilliant, kind and generous man.”

Ball said Lee excelled in business, as a politician and actor.

“He was a wonderful friend, who gave generously of his time to many charities,” she wrote. “We will miss his beautiful singing voice here on Earth!”

Ball spoke more about Lee’s voice by telephone with the Courier.

“He had a lovely tenor voice, and whenever we went anywhere — he would frequently drive me to events — he would sing to me all the way there and all the way home,” she said.

“That’s what I remember more than anything is B.C.’s love of music.”

Another former NPA council colleague, Suzanne Anton, tweeted that Lee was “the most perfect of colleagues, kind, generous, helpful and always looking out for the team.”

Added Anton: “I loved B.C. Lee, and am so shocked and sorry that he has died.”

Anton and Ball served with Lee under the administration of then-NPA mayor Sam Sullivan, who was in power at city hall from 2005 to 2008. Lee did not seek re-election after his term expired.

He was coy about his reasons for not taking another run to keep his job on council.

“If you want something that badly, you don’t really want to talk about it,” he told the Courier in May 2008. “It really has to do with what I want to do with my life. When the time comes, I will let the whole world know.”

Turned out, it was acting that kept him off the 2008 election ballot, although he was never too far from the party, and was elected president of the NPA in March 2015.

“I don’t look at it as some kind of crown, or whatever,” said Lee, who at the time was vice-president of business development for Fireglo Strategic Marketing and Communications and vice-chairperson of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture.

“For me, it’s just something that if I can be of help, then I will do something to help the NPA. That’s all.”

Lee was one of the quietest NPA councillors during his term at city hall, rarely engaging in the to-and-fro his colleagues participated in with opposition councillors.

He was a booster of the city’s then-proposed 311 phone system, the multicultural task force and the need to educate more newcomers about city politics.

“I just feel that a healthy democracy also needs to hear from more different voices,” he said after his election as NPA president.

During his time at city hall, Lee was council’s only fluent Mandarin speaker. He was born in Macau, raised in Taiwan, studied business at New York University and moved to British Columbia in 1992.

His background served him well as a community liaison officer for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Vancouver. He was also involved in organizing the city’s annual Taiwanese Festival.

Interestingly, Lee was one of the few Vancouver councillors in history to agree to a polygraph test. It was conducted in 2009 by Vancouver police investigators in a probe related to the Olympic Village and a leaked financial document.

Lee passed the test.

Lee, who was not married, is survived by his family, who will hold a private ceremony to remember him. A public celebration of life will be announced at a later date.

mhowell@vancourier.com

@Howellings

 

 

 

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