A stalwart champion of theatre in White Rock – and across the Lower Mainland – has passed.
Veteran White Rock Players Club member Gordon Mantle – known to everyone who knew or worked with him as Gord – died on the afternoon of Monday in the hospice at Peace Arch Hospital following a rapid decline due to cancer. He would have turned 70 on May 1.
“He had just moved into the hospice from palliative care,” said former spouse Jane Mantle, who had been visiting him with family members shortly before he died.
She noted that Mantle had liver cancer, which had spread rapidly to his lungs and lymph nodes.
“He felt comfortable in hospice – everybody was so gentle and kind there,” she said. “You could see him visibly relax.”
Well-known and well-liked in the theatre community, the Vancouver-born Mantle was a consistently hearty, avuncular presence around the Coast Capital Playhouse, always welcoming to newcomers, with countless credits in productions dating back to the 1970s, when he first moved to the Semiahmoo Peninsula from Prince George.
He had acted, sung in musicals, clowned as villains and authority figures in pantomimes, designed sound and done just about every other job in putting on community theater, including directing a re-staging of Scott Wheeler’s musical When The Lights Go On Again – he appeared in earlier versions as a player – following Wheeler’s death in 2006.
But Mantle’s bearded countenance was most familiarly seen over the years at the stage manager’s station in the wings on stage right at the theatre – calmly, unflappably overseeing every detail of a show as it progressed from early production meetings through rehearsal, the run itself and the final take-down of the set.
In 2016 he made a rare return to the stage in a serious acting role as the ambitious carpenter, Jacob Engstrand, in the Langley Players Club’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. He also stage managed and served on the casting committee for several other Langley shows, as well as bringing his knowledge and experience to productions for other groups.
His last theatrical contribution was the soundscape for the current White Rock Players Club production, August: Osage County.
While Mantle could affect a gruff manner on stage, in person he was smooth and possessed of a great deal of charm, with a twinkle in his eye that spoke of the gusto with which he met life.
He could also be a fiercely loyal friend, who inspired loyalty in the many he’d met over the years.
He loved theatre both as a participant and as an audience member – in addition to seeing productions all over the Lower Mainland he made frequent trips to New York to catch Broadway shows – and that love, and his extensive experience, informed his work on every production.
He also enjoyed music – particularly classic musical theatre numbers – and in addition to having a booming baritone voice he played several instruments, and had also spent many years D.J.-ing music for special events and celebrations.
In recent years, Facebook friends came to know his deep and abiding love for White Rock – particularly the beauty of vistas of the pier and waterfront – through his many posts of photographs taken on early morning walks.
He was a longtime board member of the White Rock Players Club, the Community Theatre Coalition and Theatre BC – the latter organization praising him this week in an in memoriam post on its website as “cheerleader extraordinaire for the Greater Vancouver Zone.”
White Rock Players Club president Fred Partridge said he was “still trying to get my head around” the loss of Mantle.
“It all happened so fast,” he said. “On a personal level – I’ve known Gord for so long. I can’t begin to think of how everything’s going to change.
“As far as the club is concerned, we relied on him for so much, whether it was for history, or somebody to rally around and take on jobs and give advice. He did so much for so many people – he brought everyone together. And he loved the social side of the club – he was somebody people gravitated around.”
He is survived by stepchildren Rob Watkins, Daniel Watkins and Molly Mulvaney, and five grandchildren, and an earlier spouse.
A celebration of life is tentatively planned for the Coast Capital Playhouse on May 12, but is yet to be confirmed.