Don Knutson, a tireless volunteer and integral member of the Whitehorse community, died on Sunday. He was 78.
His death, at Whitehorse General Hospital, followed a brief illness and a heart attack.
Knutson was a recent recipient of a Yukon commissioner’s commendation for longtime service to the territory and for leading the Vimy Heritage Housing Society, which is working to build supportive housing for seniors.
Knutson also served for more than 30 years at the Whitehorse Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, including six terms as president. He was awarded a life membership in 1993 and the meritorious service medal in 2000.
David Laxton, Yukon’s Speaker of the legislative assembly, called Knutson his best friend.
They met when Laxton moved to the territory in 1998.
“He was a very kind, very easy-going guy,” Laxton said. “He cared about people, cared about the community and people at large within the community. He never stopped – he never stopped giving.”
With the support of his wife, Margaret, Knutson was behind many community initiatives in Whitehorse.
He worked at Mount Sima the year it opened, and also managed the waterfront trolley in its first year. He was also the first manager of the Vimy Heritage Housing Society.
His leadership at the society “will remain in our hearts,” said board member Bev Buckway.
“He was the driving force behind this project. I never saw him get flustered, never saw him get mad. He was always very calm, always very fair. He was just one of those stalwart members of our community. He will be so missed.”
Darcy Grossinger, current president of the Whitehorse Legion, described Knutson in a letter to legion members as a dedicated president who led by example.
“We were in safe hands under Don’s leadership,” he wrote. “He genuinely cared about his community and those in it.”
Knutson was also a drummer in the Midnight Sun Pipe Band, who would often play on Canada Day in Whitehorse and would travel to Skagway for Fourth of July celebrations. The band also made a few trips to Edinburgh, Scotland.
After a 40-year career at NorthwesTel, Knutson didn’t slow down in retirement.
“He transferred his work life to his volunteer life but he always seemed to have time for people and kept in touch,” said Buckway. “When you have someone who has contributed so much and still had so many years to go it just seems so tragic.”
Laxton saw Knutson last Friday afternoon, as the two watched World Cup soccer.
“He was looking good and in fine spirits and we were having a good laugh,” Laxton said. “It was quite the shock.”
“He just cared and he wanted to participate and be part of the community and give back to it. He did a lot and never asked for anything. The community is really going to miss him.”
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