Denis was a distinguished Planner and Municipal Administrator, being one of the founding members of what is now APPI in 1962, serving as President of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada in 1979-80 and receiving that organizations Vanier Medal for “outstanding contribution to public administration“ in 1987.
Growing up in England and serving with the Palestine Police during the Second World War, Denis Cole’s career in Canada was focused in Alberta where he served in many important roles for over 40 years. Starting in 1953, as Director of the fledgling Red Deer Regional Planning Commission, he saw it grow from four to 30 members, before becoming the City of Red Deer’s Commissioner for eight years. Denis was instrumental in establishing Red Deer’s municipal land bank, which has contributed significantly to the land use fabric of Red Deer and continues to this day. In 1971 Denis moved to Calgary as the Commissioner for Community Development. He became that City’s Chief Commissioner in 1973 – a role he served in through the tumultuous oil boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Upon retiring from the City in 1981 he continued to serve planning as a member of the prestigious Alberta Planning Board and as a private consultant and guest lecturer at Universities.
Denis Cole was a very principled man who believed public service was a privilege and not just a job. A man of immense integrity, he was respected not only by his staff whom he encouraged and protected professionally but by many of the politicians’ he worked with because of his all-encompassing approach to providing the decision makers with the tools and information to make the right decisions. Denis had the ability to provide a framework for positive political decisions on any issue, by impartially identifying realistic options along with a reasoned series of arguments as to the possible implications of choosing one strategy over another.
Denis engendered trust in all he dealt with, both through his personality, respect for all viewpoints and the careful consideration he gave to an issue before responding. When dealing with a contentious issue he always took the longer term view as to the impact of a decision in seven years as well as seven days. This consideration of longer term issues once led to a Developer declaring “I would gladly give him an airline ticket anywhere in the world – as long as it was a one way ticket”.
Throughout his life Denis was always interested in what was happening both in the City he lived in and the rest of the world. An avid reader, the book by his bedside when he passed away was “The Next One Hundred Years” by George Friedman. With Denis’s love of life he surely would have enjoyed being around to see if Mr. Friedman’s predictions came true.