As a member of the RCMP, Bob Killbery and his wife Bev were used to being transferred to new posts in B.C. But there was one posting that kept drawing the couple back: Prince Rupert.
Even when they were transferred to Prince George, then Vancouver, the Killberys would return to Prince Rupert for summer vacations.
Whenever they came back, it was as if they’d never left.
“There were people saying, ‘Where have you been? I haven’t seen you for a while.’ We’d been gone for seven years,” Bob Killbery said.
“If you walk down the street, it takes you longer to walk a block than it does to walk a block anywhere else, because you’re always stopping to talk to somebody. It’s that closeness of the community that drew us back.”
So the couple decided Bob’s last post would be in Prince Rupert. They returned in 2008, and after more than 35 years of service, Killbery retired from the force in 2014. He retired again from security at the port in 2017.
The Killberys are a long way from where they grew up in Winnipeg. Bob and Bev met in high school and have been together ever since. Only a few years out of school, Bob was working in a farm equipment manufacturing plant when one of his friends was accepted into the RCMP.
“I thought, ‘If he can get in, sure to God I can get in.’”
Next thing he knew, he was in training. At the time, new recruits weren’t paid much, so Killbery made some extra money by spending his weekends making gun holsters. Word got out and soon enough he was making 25 every weekend. That was in 1978. Since then, he’s continued his leatherworking. Killbery also hasn’t stopped making equipment for the RCMP, combining duty and creativity. His latest project is Toy O’Lette, a hand-painted toilet used for the Prince Rupert detachment’s Flush Away Cancer initiative.
Raising money for pediatric cancer research is just one way Bob has kept busy in retirement. Three days a week, he’s training for his fourth Tour de North ride in September, where he’ll bike from Prince George to Prince Rupert. The ride will also raise money for research, and go toward a summer camp for kids with cancer.
When he’s not on a bike or hauling around the charitable toilet, Killbery can be found at the Rotary Club. He’s the director of youth services for the local chapter, as well as a member of the club’s regional youth exchange committee.
Even though their daughter moved out long ago, the Killbery house is anything but an empty nest. For the last seven years, Bob and Bev have hosted exchange students from countries like Brazil, Denmark, Germany and Taiwan.
Their daughter Jen went on an exchange through Rotary, travelling and studying in Brazil in 1994. Now, the couple offers up their home to give other kids the adventure of a lifetime. By hosting students, Prince Rupert can send their own students abroad.
“If we’re not bringing a student in, we’re not allowed to send a student out,” Killbery said. “I think we benefit bringing somebody from a different country and culture into our community.”
The student they’re currently hosting is a talented musician, appearing in the latest high school musical and winning the talent show for playing the cello.
“We’re well positioned to deal with some of the problems that we know they’re going to have. It’s a difficult transition for a lot of the kids,” he said.
There’s the culture shock, the rain, homesickness and sometimes a language barrier. But he and Bev have it covered. They know what it’s like to move to a new community, and help their exchange students adjust and meet new people. Of course, they also take them fishing.
Working with youth is rewarding, Killbery said. “Especially with local kids, you see them… as they grow up. You see their successes and you think maybe we played a small role in that.
“With Cops for Cancer, over the years there are children you’ve met with cancer. There are some happy stories and there are some sad stories. On the happy side, you see what you’re doing is making a difference. On the sad side, there’s more work to be done. When you look at the two of those things and you try to balance that out, it’s pretty easy to get motivated.”
Much of the work Killbery did as an officer was reactive, responding to situations. Now, he has the chance to work proactively to help kids in need, whether they have cancer or want the opportunity to explore a new culture.
“I spent my career in drug enforcement mostly. From ‘83 until I came here in 2008, it was all drug enforcement. We see a lot of things that happen to young people involved in drugs. You try and make a difference in any way you can,” he said.
So, despite having retired — twice — Bob continues to serve Prince Rupert.
“Maybe I’ll get retirement right this time,” he jokes. “Every time you stop getting paid for work, you find there are other things that will fill any gaps that are there.”