City councillor carried torch in 1988

New Westminster’s Lorrie Williams still has the jacket she wore when she ran with the Olympic torch prior to the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, as well as an oil painting she commissioned to commemorate her run. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
New Westminster’s Lorrie Williams still has the jacket she wore when she ran with the Olympic torch prior to the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, as well as an oil painting she commissioned to commemorate her run.

New Westminster city councillor Lorrie Williams counted herself one of the lucky ones the last time the Olympic torch made its way through town en route to Calgary.

Lucky not only to get a chance to carry the torch on its way to the 1988 Winter Games, but also that she didn’t have to watch its journey from behind bars.

You see, not long after being selected randomly to carry the famous flame 12 years ago, Williams received a letter instructing her to practise by carrying something the same weight, preferably with a wooden handle. The problem was the only thing she could find close to the 1.8-kg suggestion was an old hatchet. The other problem was she couldn’t run until after she got home from her teaching job.

“So there I am running through the streets in the dark at night holding a hatchet over my head,” Williams recalled with a long laugh. “It was so funny.”

Funny then. Almost certain to attract local law enforcement now.

Of course much has changed since the last time Canada hosted an Olympics. It’s hard to imagine spectators today being able to approach the torch bearer the way they did Williams back in 1988, running up to get their own miniature torches and candles burning with the same fire that would later light up the Olympic cauldron.

“One guy wanted to light a cigarette but I absolutely refused to do it, the cheeky bugger,” said Williams, noting security back then was limited to one officer on each side as she ran with the torch. “Certainly not as much as there is now.”

Security may be up today, but the distance each person carries it is down.

Williams, who said she was a regular 10-km runner back then, had to carry the torch for a full kilometer, more than the 300 meters in 2010.

“Towards the end I was sagging a bit,” said Williams, who won the right to carry the torch by entering a lottery sponsored by Petro Canada, but was selected to run on Vancouver Island rather than her first choice of New Westminster.

For all that has changed since the torch last passed through Canada, Williams says the spirit and pride that the flame stirs in local communities remains the same.

She remembers vividly the celebration when she and an entourage of family and friends ended up coming home on the same ferry as the flame, sharing cake and stories as the torch was held up at the front of the boat, “a la Titanic.”

And she has an album full of photos, including one with then-Mayor Tom Baker during a torch celebration back at Queen’s Park in New Westminster the following day.

“I was hyped for months and it was everything I thought it would be,” she said. “It was almost sad at the end, but I am so glad I had the chance to carry the torch.”

This time Williams chose to pass the torch figuratively rather than literally.

“I wanted somebody to have a chance,” she said of not pursuing a chance to carry the Olympic flame again in 2010.

“I would be thrilled, but a tad guilty.”

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