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Accountant, volunteer, hockey player mourned

One of Prince George's most counted on "doers" was laid to rest on Saturday.

One of Prince George's most counted on "doers" was laid to rest on Saturday.

Leonard Zirnhelt has close connections all over the Cariboo - born in Williams Lake, raised in 150 Mile House and Lac La Hache where he had a lake house, and especially in Prince George where he and his family spent the last 52 years.

Zirnhelt first came to Prince George in 1962 to attend the College of New Caledonia. Over the years he excelled as a chartered accountant. He was a company partner by the age of 25, a managing partner at Peat Marwick by 44, and a senior partner with KPMG at the time of his retirement in 2003. In 2009 the Chartered Accountants of B.C. named him to the Fellowship of Chartered Accountants for service and honour to the profession.

"Forestry was, and is, a big part of Prince George," he said when inducted into the FCA.

"I found that there were a lot of dynamic things I could do within the industry."

He invested much volunteer attention on the Central Interior Logging Association and was a co-founder of the Forest Expo that now thrives as the Canada North Resources Expo. He was involved over the years with the Forest Alliance of BC and KPMG's Forest Industry Practice Committee, among other connections to the area's bread-and-butter sector.

Zirnhelt was also keen to volunteer for quality of life causes. He was a provincial board member of the BC Automobile Association, treasurer of the Prince George Community Foundation and helped with fundraising for the Spirit of the North Healthcare Foundation. He was a co-founder of the Prince George Oldtimers Hockey Association and continued to play for his 50-plus team the Rusty Nuts. A large number of his teammates wore their red jerseys to the celebration of his life.

It was Zirnhelt's service to the community for which he was spoken of most warmly as hundreds of loved ones gathered to celebrate him at Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Ramada Ballroom. He was applauded for not only volunteering his professional services, but being a pillar of mentorship and diplomacy, kindness and dignity.

"He was a go-to guy," said his sister Margaret Ferrier. She told of how he once took their father to buy a new winter coat, but dad felt the one he liked was too expensive so they didn't buy any. Zirnhelt secretly returned to the store, paid half the price and arranged to have it put on half-off sale so his father would get the coat he wanted without feeling guilty about the price. This generous and conscientious gesture was how he lived all aspects of his life, she said: caring for people's feelings as much as their practical needs.

He found a kindred spirit in his wife Judi who shared his appreciation for the Central Interior - both fostering it and enjoying the quality of life in this region.

The achievements of family was a personal delight for Judi and Leonard together. At the public end of that spectrum were two provincial cabinet ministers in his immediate circle, and at the private end were their three children Melanie (Ross), Lane (Lenka) and Russell (Kelly) raised in Prince George and now involved in the community in their own ways, especially in the raising of Trinity, Noah, Grayson, Lilly, Eli and Leo, the grandchildren that became the chief priority for Leonard and Judi.

For a significant stretch of time, with the help of the B.C. medical community, Zirnhelt was able to fight the cancer that came to him. He finally succumbed on March 13 at the age of 69.

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