William Joseph “Bill” Hireen was always easy to spot if you lived in Abbotsford, B.C. His unmistakable ’91 Cavalier was covered in decals — everything from the Teamster’s union to Canadian veterans — each representing a proud chapter in his life.
He never missed a Remembrance Day ceremony. If the city council was in session, you’d better believe he was sitting four rows from the front on the left aisle in his usual seat. It even had his name on it.
“From city councillors to the homeless, he could chat it up with all of them,” said his daughter, Valerie Noble.
Hireen, a Navy veteran, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in December. His battle lasted two weeks until his death on New Year’s Eve.
He’s one of at least 11 people who have died following an outbreak at Menno Home, a care home in Abbotsford. More than 70 people have been infected.
“When they gave us the phone call to tell us he tested positive, it was devastating,” said Noble. “He wanted to fight it, and he did his very best.”
Proud of his service
Hireen was born in Vancouver on March 23, 1927. He grew up in the city, before joining the Navy in the early 1940s. He served overseas during the Second World War, stationed in the United Kingdom.
“I was one of the lucky ones,” he once wrote in a letter after a local newspaper published a photo of him in mourning while attending a Remembrance Day ceremony.
“My thoughts went back to the 1940s and the thousands wearing the same uniform as me who would never come back,” he wrote.
After he was discharged from the Navy, Hireen started a family in Vancouver. His eldest daughter, Valerie Noble, was born in 1957.
Noble said her father was a devout Catholic and a great public speaker, never afraid to speak in front of the congregation.
Noble’s fond memories of her father include ice skating, camping adventures and a trip to Disney Land, and she also recalled her dad’s love for driving and cars. He worked as a truck driver.
“He was very proud of all his cars, everything from his VW Volkswagen to his ’67 Chevelle. With every car, he put his own touches on,” she said.
At age 55, he was diagnosed with a spinal cord disease that paralyzed him from the waist down. Determined to stay behind the wheel, he had hand controls installed in his Cavalier so he could keep driving, which he did up until 2018.
“He was very independent,” Noble said, adding that she had registered him for handyDART, a paratransit service in B.C. “But he never used it once.”
A council fixture
Hireen spent the last three decades of his life in Abbotsford, where he became one of the most well-known members of the community.
He wouldn’t miss Remembrance Day ceremonies, and he could always be spotted at school board, police board, and transit meetings.
When it came to city council, his attendance record would give any elected official a run for their money.
“I’ve been a city councillor for five terms, and as long as I can remember, Bill was a fixture in our chambers,” said councillor Dave Loewen.
Plaque part of Hireen’s legacy
In 1999, while making his way to council chambers on crutches, he was greeted by mayor and council. They unveiled a plaque on his usual chair.
“This seat is reserved for William J ‘Bill’ Hireen during council meetings,” it read.
“We’d always looked at Bill’s chair, and if he wasn’t there, someone would be asking about Bill,” said Loewen. “He was someone who encouraged us, without words, that we were doing alright … he affirmed us.”
Loewen says there are no plans to remove the plaque. It’s part of Hireen’s legacy that includes war medals, more than 200 blood donations, the respect of his peers and the love of his family.
Hireen leaves behind three children, seven grandchildren and three great granddaughters.