Attitude, altitude, and a love for the community

A Canadian College of Performing Arts duet’s poignant rendition of Elton John’s “Can you feel the love tonight”

As friends and colleagues gathered to celebrate legendary Victoria businessman and community champion Mel Cooper’s 90th birthday, the lyrics of Elton John’s Disney classic, “Can you Feel the Love Tonight” rang sweetly in the Drawing Room at Government House.

A talented duet from the Canadian College of Performing Arts sang this and other stirring renditions of some of Mel and Carmela Cooper’s favourite songs.

The celebration honoured not only Cooper’s milestone birthday, but also his extraordinary living legacy, which has touched countless lives throughout Greater Victoria and beyond. Later that evening, a presentation would be made that would solidify that legacy of giving and Cooper’s focus on youth for years to come.

From the East Coast to the airwaves of Greater Victoria

Mel Cooper was born in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and moved to Vancouver with his family in 1945. There, he graduated high school from Vancouver College and attended the University of British Columbia. In 1951, Cooper began a broadcasting career in Port Alberni, but quickly hit the big leagues at CKWX and CKNW radio in Vancouver. His meteoric rise in the radio business ultimately landed him the role of CKNW’s General Manager in 1970.

Mel Cooper speaking with various guests at his 90th birthday celebration.

Mel Cooper working the room alongside gracious host Lieutenant Governor Janet Austin.

In 1974, however, Cooper truly hit his stride when he bought Victoria’s CFAX 1070 radio. Assuming the roles of president and general manager, he swiftly established himself as a pillar in the city he would proudly call home ever since.

A force of innovation, creativity and leadership, Cooper’s 50+ years in business have shown he’s not only a savvy businessperson, but also dedicated community champion.

Over the years, Cooper has served on numerous boards – from the ‘70s to the present day in his enduring role as Chair Emeritus of the TELUS Victoria Community Board.

His staggering record of service includes roles as vice president of Expo86, where he raised a then world-record $170-million in sponsorship support. He played a crucial role in securing the 1994 Commonwealth Games, which he presided over as Chairman. That event alone brought tens of millions of dollars in economic activity to Victoria, and left other lasting legacies including the Saanich Commonwealth Place recreation facility.

For these and other achievements, in 1989 Mel was endowed with the Order of Canada, which was followed by the Order of British Columbia in 1992. In 2005, he received the City of Victoria’s “Lifetime Leadership” award and was bestowed the Queen Elizabeth II “Diamond Jubilee” medal in 2012.

While these and nearly countless other accolades shine brightly, many Greater Victorians recognize him most from his decades at the helm of CFAX 1070 and his crucial role in the enduring Santas Anonymous Christmas campaign benefiting families and children.

“Now, there’s a North star,” says real estate advisor Randall Mang, a close friend who met Cooper in 2018. “It’s little wonder why people in this community admire Mel. He embodies what a life of purpose can look like.”

A fast friendship and a celebration of 90 years

Mang met Cooper at a Duke of Edinburgh’s Silver Award ceremony held at Government House, where Mang and his wife Louise’s youngest daughter was among the recipients.

Cooper was attending the event in his role as Chair of the TELUS Victoria Community Board, but also his personal passion for youth development, and the Award, which encourages youth to develop their full potential.

Cooper and Mang formed a fast friendship. Mang and his family were new to the island, and when he expressed an interest in getting involved in the community, Cooper suggested he consider joining the board of directors of the Canadian Heritage Arts Society, which benefits the Canadian College of Performing Arts (CCPA). Mang was all in.

Looking back, Mang realizes, “That was just Mel being Mel, helping make the world go around.”

“People often tell me how Mel constantly connected people with worthy causes. That effort alone  helped foster untold support for organizations across Greater Victoria and B.C.”

When Cooper’s 90th birthday was approaching, Mang says CCPA managing artistic director Caleb Marshall suggested CCPA host a celebration. The two quickly realized that to properly honour Cooper and his community involvement, it would have to be bigger than the College.

Mel Cooper poses for a photo with various members of the community: Gordy Dodd, Wayne Cooper, Dale Boniface, Randall Mang, Dick Auchenleck, Sandra Richardson, Naz Rayani, Iain Harris (hidden). Mel and Carmella Cooper in foreground.

Donors and supporters posed with the $900,000 presentation cheque. L-R: Gordy Dodd, Wayne Cooper, Dale Boniface, Randall Mang, Dick Auchenleck, Sandra Richardson, Naz Rayani, Iain Harris (hidden). Mel and Carmella Cooper in foreground.

Led by Mang, a committee was formed including Mel’s wife Carmela, members of Cooper’s family, dear friends and colleagues Dale Boniface, Kathy Baan and Peter Legge, and Jerymy Brownridge from Government House. The group envisioned an intimate gathering of Cooper’s longtime friends, colleagues and admirers.

Cooper was duly feted on December 9, 2022 at a small evening event graciously hosted by Government House and personally presided over by The Honourable Janet Austin. Among the highlights, CCPA singers and dancers provided entertainment; fond memories were shared, including tributes from luminaries including TELUS Chairman Dick Auchinleck, and virtual remarks from Jimmy Pattison, David Foster and George Melville. The night also included a presentation that would resonate well beyond the walls of Government House for years to come.

The Mel Cooper Fund for Youth Development and the Performing Arts

On the morning of the Government House celebration – the day before his 90th birthday – there was Cooper and his loving wife Carmela out in the community, giving back. Honouring their longstanding tradition, the two helped kick off the 2022 CFAX’s Santas Anonymous campaign.

“It reflects Mel and Carmela’s true spirit. Giving, to them, goes far beyond a financial donation,” says Mang.

That evening at Government House, as the CCPA duet sang final verse of ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight?’ “The entire room was gushing,” says Mang. That sentiment was perhaps felt even more strongly with the surprise announcement of The Mel Cooper Fund for Youth Development and the Performing Arts.

“It was a very heartfelt moment for Mel, Carmela, and everyone in the room,” says Mang.

In a night full of story and song, one of the most impactful moments on Cooper’s 90th birthday was a gesture of giving back.

Presentation of a cheque for $900,000 for the Mel Cooper Fund for Youth Development and the Performing Arts.

Janis Dunning, co-founder of the Canadian College of Performing Arts, reacts as fundraiser Dale Boniface announces the Mel Cooper Fund for Youth Development and the Performing Arts.

Managed by the Victoria Foundation, the fund seeks to perpetuate Cooper’s legacy of giving and support of youth and the performing arts in British Columbia. It helps ensure Cooper’s legacy of giving will continue in perpetuity and inspire others to embrace service as a core tenant of a rewarding and fulfilling life. A $900,000 presentation cheque was unveiled, announcing the fund’s establishment, inspiring delighted gasps and applause from the room.

Dale Boniface, who singlehandedly led the campaign drive and stewarded donations, graciously acknowledged the fund’s generous founding contributors: Gregg and Gill Abbott, the Peter and Joanne Brown Foundation, Wayne Cooper, Murray and Linda Farmer, the David Foster Foundation, Iain and Lorna Harris, David Knight, Jeff and Claire Mallet, George and Sylvia Melville, Pattison Food Group, Naz Rayani, David Richardson, Stephan Yiau / Fairway Market, RBC and TELUS.

“These founding contributors reached into their hearts and memories,” said Boniface. “Their generosity reflects the countless ways that Mel not only helped them and others over the years, but also demonstrates, I believe, the deep respect they hold for Mel, a man who has led a life and career guided by integrity, goodwill and earnest purposefulness.”

An inspiring lesson about attitude and altitude

As the night wound down, songs and stories tapered off into the evening. It was a moment to reflect on Cooper’s decades of community building and support.

“Mel has a true, genuine, giving spirit,” says Mang with admiration. Noting the list of boards Cooper served on is truly staggering, Mang says that numerous longtime friends and colleagues of Cooper’s have told him, “Mel didn’t just serve on boards; he showed up. He made things happen.”

When asked to reflect on lessons he’s learned from Cooper, Mang defers to a quote straight from the man himself. “Your attitude determines your altitude in life.”

“It’s how you approach life, its challenges, and the community that matters,” he adds. “By example, Mel continues to show us that with a positive attitude and effort, you can accomplish great things.”


The Mel Cooper Fund for Youth Development and the Performing Arts: If you would like to support the fund, visit our donation page and in the private comment box leave a note re: Mel Cooper Fund for Youth Development and the Performing Arts.