Benno Friesen passed away on Wednesday, Sept. 29. (File photo)

Benno Friesen passed away on Wednesday, Sept. 29. (File photo)

South Surrey’s Benno Friesen fondly recalled as politician and academic

Former Progressive Conservative MP who served five terms in Ottawa passed away Sept. 29

Benno Friesen – who represented South Surrey and White Rock for a record five terms as MP between 1974 and 1993 – passed away quietly at The Residence at Morgan Heights on Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Friesen – also an English literature professor and one of the founders and dean of students of the small college that became Trinity Western University – was 92.

“It was only in the last 10 days that he had been in decline,” daughter Cyndi Friesen Scholz said. “He was using a walker and was impeded by a loss of hearing, but he was still very sharp on politics, history, literature and theology.

“He was quoting King Lear right up until his passing. His favourite poet was John Donne, but Scripture was his main go-to – he loved to quote the scriptures.”

Pre-deceased by his wife, Marge, in 2019, Friesen leaves behind Cyndi, her sister Lynne, in Michigan, and their families, including seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Born in Nelson, B.C., Friesen had been a college professor since the 1950s, and came to the White Rock-Surrey-Langley area in 1962 to help start Trinity Junior College, which later expanded to become TWU.

Renae Kuhn said she and her husband, former TWU president Bob Kuhn, met at the college when they were both students of Friesen.

“He was a really beloved professor for his students,” she recalled. “Many of them stayed in contact with him over the years. He was an important mentor for my husband, who came full circle when he became president of the university.”

In notes on Friesen prepared for TWU, Bob Kuhn credited both Friesen and Marge for much of the “ultimate success” of TWU.

“They were fully invested in this small evangelical Christian University. Together with a small pioneering group of faculty and staff under the leadership of Dr. Cal Hanson, they were the glue that held together a strong nucleus of leaders over the years that they served,” he wrote.

Friesen left the university to run as MP for the Progressive Conservative Party in the Surrey-White Rock riding in 1974, Renae Kuhn noted.

But she said the eloquence he had commanded as a professor came into play in politics as well.

“When he was in parliament and when the party was looking to get across a message that was both eloquent and disciplined, he was often tapped for that,” she said.

First elected in a victory over NDP incumbent Barry Mather, he consolidated his popularity in the riding with successful relection campaigns in 1979, 1980 and 1984 (when the riding had been re-aligned as Surrey-White Rock-North Delta).

During his years in Ottawa his duties included roles as parliamentary secretary for the Secretary of State for External Affairs, the Solicitor General, the Minister of Sate for Agriculture and the Minister of Employment and Immigration.

When the riding reverted to Surrey-White Rock in the 1988 federal election, he won again, but decided to retire in 1993 to spend more time with his wife and family.

“Whenever an election was coming, even before it was called, we always had a family meeting,” Scholz recalled. “He’d always ask ‘should I continue?’ because he felt the family, for all these years, didn’t have him around much.

“But he always felt he still had a lot to contribute and get done – he felt his job wasn’t done. I think when he finally decided to quit, he felt it was time. It was time for (him and Marge) to enjoy their time together.”

In addition to sharing a love of puttering around the garden, the couple – who for many years lived in the house next door to Scholz and her spouse Bernie in South Surrey – also enjoyed travelling to spend time with their grandchildren.

Friesen also accepted public speaking engagements during his early retirement, and indulged his passion for golf by serving as ‘marshal’ for the Hazelmere Golf Club.

Scholz said he felt one of his proudest moments in politics was putting forward a private members bill, as a back-bencher, that subsequently became legislation making it illegal for estranged or divorced parents to abduct their own children.

He was also proud of the role he played as caucus chair for the Progressive Conservatives during one of his terms, she said.

“He was a very good mediator,” she added. “He was proud of the fact that he could take two (factions) that didn’t see eye to eye and bond them.”

Services for Friesen have been scheduled for 1 p.m. Oct. 18 at Peace Portal Alliance Church.

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