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In memoriam: Pat Buchannon, CEO, New Chelsea Society

We the staff of the New Chelsea Society would like to share with you all a profoundly difficult message. On Saturday September 9th, Patrick Tyrone Buchannon, New Chelsea Society’s CEO, passed away, leaving behind his husband, his family, colleagues and friendships in the work he so loved within the non-profit housing sector.

Pat has been the New Chelsea Society’s Executive Director, and CEO for over 25 years, taking over the reigns in 1997. He started with only four properties, a handful of staff, and a vision for something greater and in his 25 years, his vision for the Society grew in capacity and reputation to 21 properties and 60 staff. Patrick held a Bachelor of Arts degree from UBC, a Certificate in Senior Management from the Banff Centre for Higher Learning and was also a Charter Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing – International. He was one of the CIH Western Canada Founders. He served on the Board of Directors of BC Non-Profit Housing Association for six years and was a member of the Burnaby Mayor’s Task Force on Community Housing in 2018-19, as well as a Board Member of the George Derby Care Society. He was also an accomplished bagpiper and the Staff-Sergeant Emeritus & long time Secretary-Treasurer of the New Westminster Pipe Band. Pat also proudly received the New Chelsea – Fred Dees Staff recognition award in 2017. It is now hard to think of New Chelsea without seeing his warm smile and hearing his kind words as we go through our days.

Pat will forever be remembered as a gentle giant and an icon in the non-profit sector. Most recently, in the fall of 2022, Pat was honoured with the BCNPHA Denise LeBlond Lifetime Achievement Award for individuals whose dedication and vision have furthered the cause of affordable housing in BC. Throughout his respected career as a recognized ambassador, mentor, and active member of BCNPHA, he was highly sought out for his wisdom and knowledge of all things non-profit, and routinely met with leaders – making time in his busy day to listen actively and intently. That is what he did best… listen. When he did speak, he spoke volumes eloquently and passionately with a command of the English language that few today have mastered and is the hallmark of all great leaders past present and future. Pat will be fondly remembered for his love of “Everything Bagpipes,” playing piano for the residents at Chelsea Park on Friday afternoons and organizing Bingo events at Chelsea Terrace. You could often find Pat at many of New Chelsea’s Summer BBQs and often generously giving his time along with his Pipe Band to the residents putting on a traditional Scottish show. In the early years with New Chelsea, Pat would host a Summer Residents’ Picnic for all the residents, with over 300 residents showing up.

Not least of all, Pat was also a proud Legion Member of Branch 142 for over 36 years, during which he spent many years on the Executive Committee, as well as sitting on the Board of Directors of the Veterans Memorial Housing Society, which provides housing for low-income veterans in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. His work with veterans was intertwined with the New Chelsea Society as the Society was founded by the Legion back in 1952. In his time with the Legion, Pat was honoured to receive the Veterans Affairs Commendation for his work with and on behalf of Veterans. Pat’s dedication and commitment to his craft, his staff, his residents, veterans, and his Society, is one of his greatest legacies he leaves behind for us to follow. The footprint and shadow cast by Pat will be nearly impossible for one person to fill.

These accomplishments are not about the man Pat, he is and will be remembered for much much more than the sum. His life’s work with New Chelsea has touched many staff, many residents – and so many more in the non-profit housing sector that he will be remembered fondly – and remembered often.

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built, or a pair of shoes made…It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.” – Ray Bradbury

Now that Pat has taken his hands away – and has been called home – we can now only honour his work and his legacy by living his examples now and forever. “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we shall remember them.”

Memories from his colleagues in the sector

“When I first came to the Affordable Housing Societies in 2017, I was brand new to the sector and had almost no meaningful connections within the non-profit housing landscape. Shortly after I commenced in my role however, Pat Buchannon reached out to me and suggested we meet for lunch. From that first lunch and moving forward Pat became one of my closest colleagues and friends within the sector, and his willingness to share information, knowledge, policies and procedures, ideas, and plans made my transition to the sector so much easier and more fulfilling. Pat and I met for lunch many times, eventually adding William Azaroff from Brightside Community Homes to our little group. There was rarely a lunch where the word bagpipes didn’t come up. Pat always had something on the go with his pipe band, and it was clear that outside of housing, bagpipes were his passion in life! Of course, we didn’t only talk about bagpipes. Pat was such a good sounding board and had a depth of experience and wisdom that was second to none in the sector. Often our times together became more like group therapy sessions as we discussed human resources challenges, tenancy challenges, building maintenance challenges, funding challenges, and the overall state of housing in our province. Pat was a great colleague and friend. I will miss him, but I do take heart that he leaves behind a rich legacy of providing housing for so many vulnerable people in our province, and that legacy will last for generations!” – Stephen Bennett, CEO, Affordable Housing Societies

“I joined the sector in 2019 and had heard about Pat as a leader in community housing. When it was announced at Housing Central that year that I had been elected to the board of BC Non-Profit Housing Association, Pat immediately found me and congratulated me and made me feel very welcome in a community where I still felt like a bit of an outsider. Pat invited me to a regular lunch he had with Stephen Bennett, and we shared concerns and successes we had and the many challenges facing our residents. He was passionate and empathetic and very experienced, and his knowledge, perspective and generosity were so important to me. I will always be grateful for his kindness and caring. I miss him, and I know hundreds of others feel his loss on a daily basis. He was one of the good ones.” – William Azaroff, CEO, Brightside Homes

“Pat was a gentle giant of a leader, but when it came to cheering others on, he was the loudest and most consistent source of encouragement around. When I became CEO of BCNPHA, Pat was partway through his term on our board and I came to rely on his quiet guidance and delightful sense of humour. I admired his masterful skill in keeping even the most difficult of conversations positive and constructive, upholding his relationships and values all the while. He may have been quiet and gentle, but his presence was always felt…and not just because his bagpipes were never far from reach.” – Jill Atkey, CEO, BCNPHA

“I first met Pat while proposing a partnership between Whole Way House and the Veterans Manor, of which he was the President of the Board. After being told ‘no’ so many times, I was becoming discouraged so his enthusiastic ‘yes’ came as a bit of a shock to me and it totally recharged my passion! He was such a visionary and had a knack for gently leading others to embrace a new vision too. From that moment on, I nudged my way in as his unofficial mentee and soaked up every bit of knowledge I could from Pat. He was extremely generous with his wisdom, and he definitely had a lot of it. We served on the board together and he brought great changes to help the organization grow and evolve into what it is today. When crisis came, Pat didn’t shy away, he stepped up and advocated for the tenants he served to receive the support they deserved. His hard work, dedication and passion for people has led to a new innovative seniors housing model, which has already helped thousands of residents. Throughout our work together, one thing I truly admired about Pat was that he went out of his way to thank and acknowledge others and give credit where credit was due. His humility inspires me and his legacy of changed lives will live on for years to come. I am grateful to be one of them.” – Jenny Konkin, President and Co-Founder, Whole Way House

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