My daughter Sarah gifted me a special book this Christmas – the biography of Hazel McCallion titled “Hurricane Hazel – A Life with Purpose”. It is Hazel’s account of her life told in her words and co-authored by Robert Brehl.
For those who might be seeing this from beyond the Greater Toronto Area, Hazel McCallion entered politics in her mid-50’s and was first elected mayor of Mississauga in November 1978. She is the longest-serving mayor in the city’s history, and one of the longest-serving in Canadian history. She remained in this role until just recently when she retired in 2014, at the age of 93.
I enjoyed this book on so many levels as it touches on a number of topics close to my heart: ageism, women in business and politics, Alzheimer’s disease, leadership, family (including horses) and living with purpose. It also appealed to me because I’ve had an opportunity to see Mayor McCallion in action.
Close to 25 years ago, I worked as the Director, Public Relations for the Mississauga Board of Trade. It was the early days of my career just a few years out of university. At the time, the Board of Trade had just constructed and built its new Board of Trade Business Club – a beautiful facility in a newly constructed office tower developed and owned by the Shipp family in downtown Mississauga. Mississauga’s downtown was also taking shape with the opening of its Civic Centre and Living Arts Centre. Mayor McCallion was a frequent visitor at the Business Club along with many of Mississauga’s business elite.
I would also bump into her at many of the business openings and ribbon-cutting events that represented the city’s growth. She was always present to share encouraging words, reassuring new business owners that they’d made a great choice in choosing Mississauga for their place of business and ultimate success. Mississauga was clearly her pride and joy and she shared it generously at these special occasions.
Just a few years ago, I met Hazel again at a ribbon-cutting event for a security company in Mississauga. By then, Mayor McCallion would have been well into her 80’s and had seen several decades of Mississauga’s growth. The event was late in the day. I fully expected that at that point in her career, Hazel would arrive with an entourage of “handlers”. Instead, she showed up alone, driving her own car. As I remembered her so many years ago, she was fully present and without distraction, speaking from the heart and sharing her passion for Mississauga, and as she likely had countless times before, recognizing company officials for choosing Mississauga as their place of business.
I asked her if she was heading home for the night after a long day in the office (by now it was after 6:00 p.m.). “No,” she replied, “I am heading into downtown Toronto to meet with the Ontario Minister of Finance.” Again, I was impressed with her fire and personal drive. Here is a woman who after decades of being in the same role, still puts in 100 hours per week in a role she loves. As she accounts in her story, her day begins at 7 p.m. and she is out attending events 3 – 4 nights per week. As she says: “What really matters is how hard you work and how determined you are to reach your goals and fulfill your dreams.”
Starting your own business takes a certain degree of courage and as a friend shared, “it’s personal.” I’m sure Mayor McCallion attended hundreds if not thousands of ribbon-cutting events over the course of her tenure. Her presence at these events likely earned for her tremendous loyalty from her constituents. Showing up is important. It matters to people. I know when we hosted the ribbon-cutting event just a few short months ago for The Mane Intent, the presence of our local Reeve Dave Nelson and others who were here to share in the experience meant a lot to me and to my family.
In the chapter on Leadership, Mayor McCallion attributes the keys to her success and longevity to the following tenants:
- Be honest
- Work hard and always do your homework
- Be organized
- Know your motivation
- Work together
- Don’t be afraid to fail
- Be tenacious
What I admire most about this remarkable woman is that when she shows up, she is fully present, in the moment and committed. She knows who her audience is and she is not afraid to speak her truth. She is tenacious and she does her homework. She is proud of her feisty attitude. She is a doer and an achiever. Her history also includes a farm and some horses. Who knew? Mayor McCallion lives her life fully with intent. Bravo Hazel. I hope you continue to live boldly and with purpose. You will always have my vote.