He was one of the nicest guys in politics, spending much of his life in public service professionally as well as personally. It’s for those reasons and many others that the community was shocked to hear that former St. Albert MLA and Councillor Len Bracko passed suddenly at his British Columbia home on the weekend. He was 73.
He was best known as a stand-up politician, unwavering in his dedication at both the municipal and provincial levels. He even tried to make it to the federal level with a senatorial bid.
“Len was 110 per cent committed to serving,” said Barb Bracko, his wife of 38 years.
Even after his retirement from political life and moving out to the coast, his heart was in many ways still in St. Albert, she added. Their recent visit to the city in June was classic Len: meeting with elected officials to do what he could for the betterment of the people who call this city home.
“He went and met with our MP and our MLA and talked to them about various things that he felt that they could do to still enhance the St. Albert community. He was still working behind the scenes to try and make sure that St. Albert could benefit from things done at the federal level as well as at the provincial level. I don’t know that there’s many people who would [have done that].”
It was back in 1989 when he first decided to switch careers from being a respected teacher to running to become a Liberal MLA. He lost to the PC candidate, the powerhouse former mayor Richard Fowler, but won the day with his entrée as a new city alderman later that year.
After his first term in municipal politics, he tackled – and beat – Fowler again in the next provincial election, and served as the Municipal Affairs critic. His yo-yo-like political life saw him lose his MLA seat to the next PC candidate, Mary O’Neill, in 1997, however. The 16-vote margin of victory was one of the closest races ever to squeeze through a campaign.
The next time he and O’Neill would go head-to-head for the MLA spot, she would increase that spread to more than 2,000 votes, leaving Bracko the opening to run for city council again. And that’s where he stayed for four straight terms, offering St. Albert a rare sense of stability and reason. No matter who was mayor or who the rest of the councillors were, people could always count on Len Bracko, and they did.
For a decade, he served on various committees and was at times a director of both the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association. When he finally quit politics in 2013, he was widely regarded as a man of the people, a voice of fiscal sensibility and sound business practices, and a guy with an eye to the future.
In his private life, he was a man of faith and charity, never stopping to rest when there was work to be done. Both he and Barb were dedicated supporters of Habitat for Humanity, even travelling to Nicaragua and Nepal to help building efforts there.
Former Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert MLA Colleen Soetaert said that he helped to elevate her from some of her earliest days, starting when she was a student of his.
“He was so committed to his students. He always challenged them to try their best, to give it a shot. You didn’t have to win but you had to give your best and try,” she said of the man she called a humble man of service and a model citizen.
“He was an inspiring teacher. Somebody phoned me and said, ‘he was the kindest man I ever knew.’ I can’t agree with that more. I ran because of Len. He phoned me and said, ‘Colleen, it’s a new riding and we need more women in politics.’ I said, ‘But I don’t know enough about this.’ He said, ‘You’ll learn.’ He inspired me to run for legislature and it certainly was the greatest education in my life and my family’s.”
For that, the two families became close friends. When she heard the sad news, Soetaert immediately travelled to Parksville on Vancouver Island to be with Barb. They moved from St. Albert to the coast to enjoy the temperate weather that you just can’t find in central Alberta.
“I feel like I’m the most blessed person to have had him as my husband,” Barb Bracko said. “He was just solid. He was the kindest, gentlest, loving person that anyone could ever hope to have as a spouse. I was really lucky to have him.”
Robert Bracko said that Len was asleep when he started to snore, something he never did. He suddenly stopped breathing and was unable to be revived by paramedics.
“He was gone … just like that. Just all of a sudden. It’s such a shock to all of us.”
A St. Albert service was still being planned as of this publication but Barb said that details would come out soon. She suggested that it would likely take place next week.