An eclectic group of people will gather Sunday in Penticton to celebrate the life of George Bullied, who led an equally eclectic existence during his time on earth.
Although his most recent work was as the operator of the Pine Winds Recovery and Treatment Centre in Okanagan Falls, his legacy extends far beyond the area.
Bullied, who died Aug. 8 at Penticton Regional Hospital at the age of 87, spent much of his life as a counsellor, healer and spiritual guide, with a special focus on those who, like him, had battled drug and alcohol addictions.
“He was happiest when he was helping others,” said Pat Diewold, who married Bullied in 2002 and was the co-operator of Pine Winds.
Bullied believed in “the essential goodness of people,” she said, and sought “not to crucify people for past mistakes, but to help them learn how to live.”
He grew up in poverty with nine siblings in Montreal, and travelled the world during, and after, serving in the Second World War and the Korean War. Bullied encountered many prominent figures in his younger years, Diewold said, including Mahatma Gandhi at an ashram in Calcutta, and Martin Luther King at a march in Alabama, plus spent time living with a Hopi Indian tribe. He eventually earned a social work degree from the University of Windsor, and in 1971 founded the Twin Valleys Educational Community near Wardsville, Ont.
A sort of commune for troubled youth, Twin Valleys later grew to accommodate up to 350 people, including staff and their families, Diewold said, before it closed in 1983.
Bullied then headed west and established smaller healing communities in Canada and the U.S., before spending 10 years as an outreach worker in Vancouver, where he helped people with substance-abuse issues and AIDS. It was during that period he met Diewold, who was 14 years his junior and worked as a psychologist at Vancouver General Hospital for 34 years before retiring in 1999.
“I never had someone I could share with like with George,” she said. “And he was a very interesting guy.”
The couple together dreamed up the concept of Pine Winds and chose Okanagan Falls for its peacefulness and relative low cost of land.
“We were going to do spiritual work of some sort, and where there was the need was in drug and alcohol (counselling), and George had great expertise in the area,” Diewold explained.
“Although I’m a psychologist, he was the head honcho, for sure, and I was the chief cook and bottle washer.”
At the core of the Pine Winds philosophy was the 12-step program. It helped up to five residents at a time work on the core issues of their addiction before the centre closed in 2012, when Bullied’s health began failing him. Diewold estimates that during its eight years in operation, the centre welcomed up to 200 clients, including Stacey Van Skiver, who formed an immediate connection with Bullied during their first meeting in January 2009.
“I just knew after 33 years of using drugs and alcohol that this was going to be my way out for a better life,” said Van Skiver, who noted Bullied helped him re-embrace his spirituality and spoke with authority about battling addiction.
Despite his mentor being gone now, Van Skiver feels well-prepared to meet life’s challenges head-on: “George actually prepared us for all this. He built up within me a really strong foundation for living.”
The celebration of life for Bullied is set for Sunday, Sept. 14, at 2 p.m. at St. Saviour’s Anglican Church hall in Penticton.