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From typewriters to virtual meetings, Ken Nicholson guided the armed forces’ transformation

Celebrating a career that spanned 50 years with the navy
Ken Nicholson (left) receives a long service award recognizing his 50 years of service to the Department of National Defence and the Government of Canada from Rear Admiral Christopher Robinson, Maritime Forces Pacific commander, as Nicholson’s wife Betty Jean looks on. (Courtesy CFB Esquimalt)

In a career that’s spanned 50 years, Ken Nicholson has seen a lot of change.

During his time, Nicholson has overseen the transformation of the Canadian Armed forces as it has gone from typewriters to virtual meetings.

“Your career has seen the single largest leap forward in technology and capabilities in history. You helped usher the Canadian Armed Forces into the digital age. This was a bigger change than the move from sails to steam. The successes of the CAF going forward will be built on the foundations that you helped lay. You have been a mentor and a friend to a generation of CAF and DND members. Thank you for everything that you have done,” said Major Kelly Dermody in a speech during a celebration of Nicholson’s career held on Wednesday (Oct. 12), where Nicholson was recognized for his 50 years of service as a government employee with the navy.

Nicholson was born in Saskatchewan but grew up in Saanich. He came from a navy family and from an early age wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was in navy cadets and then after graduating high school started working as a labourer, painting army cars.

“I would say when I first started the idea of working in an office was not my goal. I liked the idea of working with my hands, I liked the idea of working outside. But that paled in a while and eventually, you get to the point where you say, ‘yeah, I wouldn’t mind getting out of the weather.”

From there he bounced around a number of different jobs until he applied to move into management and thus started his work with technology, helping manage the Pacific arm of the navy’s switch from mechanical typewriters to electronic ones. His management work took him across the country and the pond – where he spent two years in Germany, working on the plan to close down Canadian Forces Base Lahr (which closed in 1994).

“We landed in Europe as a family on the day Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. So it just got interesting from there.”

Other major milestones Nicholson regards as wins were getting satellite terminals on Signal Hill and readying the fleet of ships the navy sent after 9/11 with networked computers. A personal highlight for him was getting to work at CFB Esquimalt and thus return to the Island where he grew up.

“I’ve always been a little bit of a workaholic. I truly have enjoyed virtually every day. I could probably count the number of days where, you know, I arrived home and was pissed off on one hand, I totally enjoy my job. That’s what made it so easy to work these extra years.”

By the time he officially retires on Dec. 7, Nicholson will have been a government employee for 50 years and 144 days.

With his newfound free time, he plans to rediscover his love for photography, go on a trip with his wife Betty Jean and get to some jobs around the house.

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