Political life, I’ve learned from the initial four mayors in this series, demands a special brand of commitment and passion. It’s not a job, all have intimated, where one packs up office contents and retires anonymously.
The difference, discussing Scugog’s current transition to its mayor-elect with Mayor Pearce, is timing. Scant days before the change, the reality and finality of leaving her post after seven years are no distant memory; they sit in the forefront of her thoughts, which lends a rawness and vulnerability to the tone of her comments.
“It’s bittersweet,” she says, body language reinforcing the statement. “I’ll still be involved in local advocacy, I just won’t be mayor anymore.
“There comes a time when you just know you should move on. Just like Mayor Moffatt told you, two terms provided enough time to put in place things you’d like to accomplish.”
That list of accomplishments is long and impressive.
“The Port Perry waterfront project will be this administration’s legacy,” she says resolutely. “It’s ironic: improvements to Palmer Park were our first major project as a council, as well as our last.”
Mayor Pearce also championed the expansion of Youth Councils. “Kids need to feel like their voice is heard in the community, so many boards and committees now have a youth representative, and there are councils in the schools. A lot of them have great ideas… there might even be a future mayor in those groups!”
Her philosophy of inclusion also extended to Scugog’s outlying communities.
“As a councillor (1987-1997), I felt we were very Port Perry-centric, so as mayor I tried to ensure the surrounding hamlets were equally served. And in public, I highlighted the cultural and economic impact of our rural, agricultural areas.”
Her evident passion for Scugog inspired initiatives aimed at protecting its heritage.
“As a council, we tried to promote what makes Scugog special – by establishing a ‘Heritage Homes Registry’ and through the ‘Heritage Conservation District’. The conservation district, in particular, is a useful marketing tool at the provincial level.
“Some of those urban guidelines were a tough sell, but you get what we have today.”
Marilyn Pearce’s interest in politics began, as is true for many, at home. “My dad was politically-minded,” she recalls. “Politics were a part of everyday conversation in our home.”
Her personal involvement sat years distant while she earned a degree in Geography from London’s University of Western Ontario. When she and husband Ric began to raise a family, other considerations took priority. Marilyn taught high school in Whitby; Ric’s career in insurance moved the family around the country.
Family considerations – the needs of the couple’s son Kevin and daughter Trisha – suggested a change from teaching when the foursome settled in Port Perry in the mid-80s. Marilyn accepted a Program Coordinator’s position with the local “YMCA,” and it was here her political ambition was truly ignited.
“I gained a reputation there for getting things done, and got involved with long-range planning for the Library.
“Then, on my 40th birthday, I had an epiphany – that I’d run for local politics. I told my girlfriend, who’d never been involved with one, that she was going to be my campaign manager!”
Marilyn’s initial bid was successful, and in 1987, she joined Scugog Township Council. But ten years in the position left her feeling burned out and seeking fresh horizons.
“I developed an internet book business,” she says, “but I missed the social interaction, the people, and the challenges of political life.”
“So in 2000, I ran as a ward councillor, to make sure the passion was still there. It definitely was. And with our kids growing older and getting on with their own lives, once my term ran out, I decided to run for mayor.”
Again she was victorious. Her agenda, she recalls, focused on investments in the community’s future.
“Bird’s Eye Pool, Cartwright Fields, Nestleton Hall, the second ice pad – all carried significant costs, but they’ll be useful to the community for years to come. We had good facilities, but some needed ‘shining up.’ And I viewed the debt we incurred as a necessary mortgage on the future.”
She is equally optimistic about her own path going forward.
“In the next few months, I plan to spend quality time with family,” she smiles. “But I’ll also be staying involved with Oak Ridges Moraine environmental issues, which are near and dear to me, as well as rural economic development.”
Ric also retired this year, and the couple intends to pursue a shared passion for travel. Their approach, she says, is different from many tourists.
“We enjoy antiquing and travelling. When we do travel around, we prefer to stay inside Canada, especially in small towns. We’ll often rent a house in a community and talk to the locals. Each area has its own terrific stories.
“Take Kincardine, where we learned about the ‘Phantom Piper.’ He’s a local man who’s created a tradition of piping in sailors from Lake Huron, and often draws a huge crowd.”
Her passion for that kind of local colour is reflected in elements of the Palmer Park project, and reinforced by her description of the finished product.
“Many read our story boards in the Park, even people from out of town. I feel it’s our responsibility to tell those stories – they’re part of our heritage and part of what’s made us what we are today.”
After seven years as mayor, and a total of twenty spent in political life, Marilyn Pearce has unquestionably left her mark on the community. Preparing to leave the mayor’s office for the last time, it is evident the community has also left its own indelible mark on this dedicated and passionate public servant.
“I’ve met many people and formed many friendships, in and outside the community which have made this a rewarding experience,” she says. “But when one door closes, another opens.”
Her short-term agenda may be clear, but her long-term plans are yet to be written. Politics, she contends, are genetic, and having exited the political arena once before, only to return refreshed, could the same thing happen again?
“Never say never!” she says with a smile.