Let’s go back, if you will, to 1974. Yikes, indeed! That’s 33 years ago. Well, I was 26, and my first husband and I had just bought our first house, a 900 square foot poured concrete palace on Penetang Street. We loved it and our neighbours and the east end captured our hearts.
I was also the editor of The Banner, Barrie’s privately owned weekly newspaper.
(Just for the record, many of you ask about my first husband. He’s still my husband. Keeps him on his toes! I have to clarify because I’m hearing our old neighbours keep asking about our status when they read this in my columns!)
Anyway, our little house had one bedroom… sort of a Noddy house, if you are a Noddy story fan. The bedroom was the only room on the second floor with one dormer window that looked out onto the street. And that’s where we were when the phone rang about 2 am one Tuesday morning.
Now, I must back up a little… Mondays were always busy for me since I covered City Council meetings at the old city hall. The meetings were very long, usually wrapping up around 11 pm. I would go home, fire up the Smith Corona portable, and pound out as many stories as I could. Then I’d grab an hour or two of sleep and grab my film and articles and head over to the office to start laying out the news portions of that week’s newspaper.
So, when the phone rang, I was in hour one of my two-hours of sleep for that night.
Husband #1 answered the phone which was on the other side of the room. He came back and jostled me. “Donna, the mayor wants you on the phone!”
I didn’t believe him. Thought he was joking. I opened one eye and looked at my alarm clock. 2:05 am. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I think I might have even told him off.
He jostled me again. “Donna! It’s really the mayor. You have to get up and answer the phone. She’s waiting. Honest!”
I squinted across the room. Indeed, the handset was off the cradle (no cordless phones in those days, or answering machines, other than first husbands).
I got up–bone weary–and grabbed the side edge of a newspaper (for note-taking) and went to the phone.
It was Dorian Parker. Dorian had been a fervent alderman for Ward Four (Allandale). She was like a bulldog for her constituents. She was shameless in her demands for Ward Four. She was protective of her ward and she knew how to fight.
She also knew how to phone.
“Donna! After we went in-camera tonight, we made decisions that turned around earlier decisions made in public. You need to know this.” Now, I’d be lying if I said I remembered what the issues were… something to do with land acquisition, likely. But, she was determined that my reporting would be accurate and wanted to make sure we told the ‘truth.’
When I read the front page today of Dorian’s death Sunday it gave me pause to remember her. While her performance as mayor (the city’s second female mayor, after Marjorie Hamilton) wasn’t visionary, it was certainly solid.
Dorian served two terms as mayor. She fought some battles that she won. She fought some battles that she lost. At the end of her second term, she lost to Ross Archer, another Ward Four alderman.
Barrie was a small city in those days, mired in potential growth issues, the economic threat of outskirt malls, annexation of agricultural land, and the need for balanced budgets and rainy day money.
As an alderman Dorian lead the pack when the Barrie Country Club put its land up for sale and moved to its spacious facility on St Vincent St half way to Midhurst. Their 80 acre parcel of land, complete with treed ravines and gentle slopes was certainly being sought by developers. Dorian thought it should remain pristine and passive, quietly reflective of nature. As an alderman she could see ahead to the time when 80 acres of nature would be a real jewel at the heart of the city. And she was right. Sunnidale Park has remained an important solace in our city llights. The Country Clubhouse became a gathering place for weddings (it was one of the few places before the Southshore Community Centre was built). It was a fitting tribute that the building was re-named the Dorian Parker Centre a few years ago.
Dorian made a rare public appearance recently to fight the installation of a water reservoir in the park. It’s one of the battles she lost.
She was opinionated. She worked hard. She worked really hard as mayor. It was her full time job. She raised two kids from a modest bungalow on Marcus St. She was an Allandale girl… all the way.
As people gather this week to attend visitations, to reflect on people served and people gone, Dorian’s passing will give us an opportunity to look back. In many ways, Dorian lead this city when it was at a crossroads between growing up and staying small. Those were difficult decisions, fraught with unharnessed opinions that often did not reach consensus.
Dorian seldom laughed. She took her life and her role in this community very seriously. She did the very best that she could do.