Quick with a smile and an outstretched hand, Ken Paton was a lover of life and a friend to almost all who knew him.
Now nearly a week after his death following a lengthy illness, the accolades and tributes continue to pour in for the 73-year-old.
Although probably best known to many as one of the driving forces behind the success of Peach City Beach Cruise, he was never one to stand in the spotlight.
“He was a person who always gave praise but never took it, but now he can’t stop us,” said Lorna Lyons, his lifelong friend and partner. “Everybody just seems to be coming out of the woodwork — it’s amazing, people that I never met who have called. He was just so well known in the community, so well loved.”
Born in Yorkton, Sask. the son of an auto mechanic, Paton became an automobile salesman in Manitoba, a job he did in a number of cities in Canada and the United States before finally settling in Penticton in mid 1990.
Second only to his family, his major passion was all about vehicles, especially the classics.
So it was no surprise he became one of the founding members of the Penticton Historic Automobile Society and the Peach City Beach Cruise.
According to Lyons, it was on those three days each June when he was truly in his element.
“Ken was so very proud of that show, and I remember him going up and down the street in his car and a big smile on his face,” she said. “It wouldn’t matter, you’d go two inches and somebody would stop you, you’d go two inches and somebody else would stop you, but he just loved it.”
She still recalls the day the two of them met and their first topic conversation.
“I was sitting in A&W having coffee with my friend and her husband and Ken came in and we got talking about cars,” she recalled. “He asked me what I drove and I said a ‘66 Dodge Charger Fastback. And he turned around and looked at me and told me: ‘don’t you ever sell that car’ and I thought who are you to tell me not to sell my car. Then one thing led to another…”
That was in 1995 and Lyons still has the Charger and no plans to sell it.
The Beach Cruise began in 2001 and has grown from a modest show of 250 classic and antique vehicles to its current registration of nearly 800 cars, trucks and motorcycles.
Bringing thousands of people here from the United States and Canada, it’s estimated the event injects just under $2 million into the local economy during the usually slow shoulder season.
It was Wally Hild who first approached Paton about the idea for the show in 1999 after he attended a similar event in Langley.
Knowing his friend’s tenacity and organizational skills, Ken was the first one he thought of when it came to putting the plan in motion.
Working so closely with his good friend over the years he also got to see another side of the longtime society president.
“Ken was an absolute gentle man who had an amazing zest for life. He was always upbeat, he just never, never took a defeatist attitude whatsoever,” said Hild, who saw his friend a couple of days before he died. “Family and cars were his two biggest passions and he wore them right out on his sleeves.
“He also had a real affinity for Penticton. He just absolutely loved this city and wanted to give back to it and he certainly did that in spades.”
Ron Muzzillo, who is now the society president, met Paton in the ‘90s and the two later hooked up again in the early years of the Beach Cruise when he became a director.
“As a person he was amazing, always gentle, always calm, always honest, straightforward,” said Muzzillo. “Ken always looked for the best in things, always looked for the best in people and the best in situations.
“He always had a strong sense of what was fair and what was right, that was his code.”
In July Paton was named by the Okanagan Rotary Club as its first lifetime member, and a month later city council issued a proclamation stating the first day of every Peach City Beach Cruise will now be known as “Ken Paton Day.”
At his request there will not be any service, however, Lyons said a huge celebration of his life is being planned for the new year.