One of Flin Flon’s most steadfast advocates and constant voices of reason is gone. Colleen McKee, city councillor, volunteer, former school board trustee and adult educator, died Nov. 11 after a battle with cancer.
“This is a huge loss to our community,” said Flin Flon Mayor Cal Huntley, a frequent collaborator - and occasional combatant - with McKee on city council.
“Colleen was pure energy when it came to working on projects and loving her community, the whole nine yards. I can’t imagine what her family is going through right now.”
McKee was born in 1963 and raised in Flin Flon, one of four children, raised by a single mother in government housing. It was here where McKee picked up both her trademark take-no-bull attitude and a desire to help the public.
“My dear mother, I am going to miss you so much. My heart forever has a hole that cannot ever be filled. There are no words that can describe the devastation I feel. I know I will carry that feeling for the rest of my life. You are irreplaceable,” reads a Facebook post from Colleen’s oldest son, Kyle.
“You're my hero and you are so much more. I am so grateful you are no longer in pain but selfishly, I so wish you were here for one more hug. Everything I do, will be to make you proud.”
Motivated by several factors, McKee first became involved in elected office as a young mother in the early 1990s.
She first ran for office in 1994, losing an election to the Flin Flon School Division board of trustees, but she ran again in 1998 and won. Later, she tried her luck at Flin Flon city council in 2006, winning on her first try. She would hold that seat until the day she died. McKee had previously announced intentions to run for the mayor’s chair, possibly becoming Flin Flon’s first female mayor, but fate got in the way.
“It happened so quickly,” said Huntley.
“We were all very, very hopeful. Our prayers were with her and everything else, but unfortunately, things took a turn for the worst and she is going to be greatly missed. She is irreplaceable.”
McKee stepped back from public life in May, announcing a leave of absence from her spot on council due to what other council members called “a sudden illness”. That illness was later revealed to be cancer.
McKee underwent treatment to fight the disease and showed some signs of progress. She attended the graduation of her youngest child, Maryn, at Hapnot Collegiate last summer and even returned to city council briefly in September, attending meetings remotely.
“I just want to say thank you to the public for being patient with my illness. I think everybody has heard by now, but I have an illness that I’m going to be dealing with,” she said in her return to council Sept. 1.
“I’m going to hang in as long as I can because I really enjoy serving the people of Flin Flon. I want to say thank you to everyone for being so patient. It’s truly appreciated.”
Those words would end up being McKee’s final public comments about her health.
“We didn’t always agree on everything - but you don’t want everybody to agree on everything. She always had an open mind and was a great friend outside of council,” Huntley said.
Outside of politics, McKee was known for her volunteer work, including parent councils at her children’s schools, at churches and beyond. She was the lead organizer of the 2017 Flin Flon Homecoming and took on a major role in raising funds for a replacement for the Flin Flon Aqua Centre.
“Colleen was the drive behind so many good things for the City of Flin Flon. Anything that Colleen tackled, she did it with gusto and, always, with that big beautiful smile. She was passionate about her family, her town, her friends and her art,” reads a memorial statement from the Flin Flon and District Chamber of Commerce.
“She is leaving behind a big hole in our hearts and the hearts of those who had the privilege to know her. We will never forget you Colleen and you will be sadly missed.”
In her day job, McKee was managed job skills training and adult education courses at the Flin Flon-based Workplace Essential Skills Training Centre, along with other northern centres.
“Colleen started on staff with us in 2010. She managed our northern WEST Centres, along with other projects that she so well stepped into. She will be sorely missed and we send condolences and love to her friends, family, and all of the WEM team at this time,” reads a statement posted online from Workplace Education Manitoba.
In what spare time she had left following her community work, McKee was a noted painter, often featuring scenes from her beloved hometown.
In one of her final city council meetings, McKee herself thanked the community that raised her, the community she championed.
“There really is no other community like Flin Flon when it comes to supporting someone when they’re down. I tell you, this community is just… the people here are just remarkable,” she said.
McKee is survived by her husband Kent and four children, Kyle, Carter (“Boodgie”), Kane (“Dee”) and Maryn (“Tootie”). A service for McKee will be held at Dadson’s Funeral Home in Flin Flon with limited attendance and will be streamed online on the funeral home’s Facebook page. Donations toward cancer research and treatment can be made in Colleen’s name at email@example.com.