Stanley Brian Hagen 1940-2009

A ‘lutefisk’ maker as a boy, he had an unmatched run in politics. And he could work even a delivery room.

Stanley Brian Hagen 1940-2009Stanley Hagen was born on March 19, 1940, in New Westminster, B.C., to Baard and Sigrid Hagen, hard-working Norwegian immigrants. Stan began his career at Hagen’s Meat and Groceries, his parents’ shop, delivering orders to fishermen moored on the nearby Fraser River. He also helped Baard make an annual seven tons of lutefisk—a malodorous Norwegian delicacy of cod soaked in lye—sold in Woodward’s stores across B.C. When Stan was 16, however, Baard decided it was time for his son to work for someone else. Hired by Nelson Brothers Fisheries, Stan worked summers at their fishing camps and canneries in Rivers Inlet, on B.C.’s central coast.

Stan was a devout Christian, and his world centred around the Lutheran church and choir. When, in 1958, he graduated from the Camrose Lutheran College in Alberta, he even considered becoming a pastor. But business was his passion, and he landed a job as comptroller for Vancouver’s E. R. Taylor Construction Co.

In the summer of 1965, Stan met his future wife, Judy Robins, whose bright red, bug-eyed Austin Healy Sprite matched her colourful personality. Watching the Mount Zion choir perform in New Westminster, Judy couldn’t take her eyes off the blond, blue-eyed tenor. Stan stared right back. Two years later they were married and, within a decade, had added five children to the family: Ruth, Corinne, Brian, Paul and Sarah.

In the early ’70s, Stan was transferred to “little old Courtenay,” on Vancouver Island, says Judy. By 1972, they’d become so enmeshed in the community that Stan was elected to the local school board. And so began his political career. The consummate politician, he even missed Sarah’s birth: he was busy working the delivery room, Judy explains, with a laugh. “You didn’t have lunch with Stan,” his best friend Don Hubbard says. “You had lunch with the entire restaurant.” (Stan’s haunt in his riding, the Monte Christo restaurant, held a table open for him every Friday, says owner Chris Sabanis.)

First elected to the B.C. legislature in 1986, Stan was swept up in the wave of “Vandermania” that brought Bill Vander Zalm’s Social Credit party to power. He remained in the flamboyant premier’s cabinet until 1991, when the Socreds were kicked out of office, amid scandal. For the next decade, he ran a paving company in Comox, before re-entering politics as a Liberal in 2001. Pro-fish farming and anti-abortion—he also supported REAL Women, an organization that promotes traditional family values—Stan was a core member of Premier Gordon Campbell’s right flank.

But he also had a “radar for people going through a bleak moment,” says B.C. writer Jodi Paterson, who, late one night 28 years ago, bumped into Stan at a Nanaimo restaurant. She was 24, her marriage was ending, and she was at a White Spot diner trying to gather her wits. Stan, a near stranger, invited her to sit down, and her story poured out. “He didn’t solve my problems,” she recalls. “He comforted me, and listened without a hint of judment—on a night I really needed someone to be kind to me.” In 2007, when B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal, Hagen’s neighbour in the legislature, was diagnosed with prostate cancer—which Stan had overcome in 2004—he was the first to call. “He even caught a plane to Vancouver to visit me in hospital,” says Oppal. “Later, when I had to go public with it, he flew over for the media conference, just to be at my side.”

In June, Stan was appointed B.C.’s agriculture and lands minister, his 10th ministerial post, a record Premier Campbell says no one in Canadian politics can match. “His children got cheated a little by the demands of his political life,” says his lifelong friend, Dave Willoughby. “He missed out on a whole lot,” Don concurs. Judy remembers the first time he was sworn into cabinet, in 1986, ostensibly one of the happiest days of his life. “I was in the big station wagon with the five kids.” He was standing on a Victoria sidewalk near the legislature. “I looked over, and he had the most forlorn look on his face: we were going home.”

Over Christmas, Stan, now 68, decided to retire from politics, to spend more time with the family. On Jan. 14, he sat down with the premier, to break the news. “His eyes welled up with tears,” Campbell recalls. “He loved both [public life and family], but in the end, he loved his family more.” On Jan. 21, says Campbell, Stan was set to publicly announce that he would not seek re-election in B.C.’s May election. On the night of Jan. 20, he died of a massive heart attack, alone, in his Victoria apartment.

“We were willing to share him with you,” said Brian, without rancor, at his father’s memorial service.