When I was growing up, I didn’t have a lot of friends. I had a small circle of friends in high school, and through this small circle of friends we began to congregate at one house, where there was space for us and we were always welcomed. When I first met Nancy, I thought she was “the cool mom”, though she’d been just as happy with keeping us away from the kinds of trouble teenagers tend to find I think. That was so long ago, most of my memories are just feelings now.
I knew that Nancy was involved in politics, a professional woman with a degree and leadership skills. She was my earliest exposure to what I believe are the best qualities of feminism. This was so different than my family – my mom was a home maker, I never witnessed her in a leadership role other than being the matriarch of our family. That’s OK, but I knew in my heart that wouldn’t be my path. Nancy was a capable woman, navigating a man’s world, the world I was resigned to (at the time) living within. I didn’t know it then, but that boy’s view of the world given to me by society was gonna get shattered in my years to come.
I am a transgender woman. As I transitioned 6-8 years ago, I didn’t immediately realize how much Nancy had inspired my self-image.
After my business’ 10 year anniversary open-house in 2012, which followed my social transition in 2011, I finally felt comfortable telling Nancy how I’d considered her a role model since I was a teenager. Her response was plain and perfectly punctuated: “I was not thinking of myself as a role model; however, I shall just blush appropriately and say thank you.”
I had grown up falling into the patriarchy, seeing that men were leaders, believing at some level, despite reading and observing otherwise, that I could lead and conduct my professional self only as a man. I’d seen a tiny bit of how Nancy challenged that, but didn’t really understand the depth of it.
As I transitioned, it was Nancy’s immediate acceptance and inclusion that gave me the perspective and examples that shape who I am today.
She invited me to join the board of the Business Advisory Centre Durham (BACD), an organization rebuilding itself after some challenges. A place where I could see her at work. She was a regional and a municipal councillor, and I watched how she conducted herself in meetings, in rooms full of men. She knew the rules, held her ground, leaned into the work, and was the first person out the door to grab a glass of water for a presenter when they looked parched. This embodiment of a person driven by compassion for others, drives my understanding of what it is to be a servant leader. She was strong and compassionate and oh so sharp.
She reminded me often that I needed a healthy business as a foundation from which to help others. As I’d say today, you can’t pour from an empty cup. She’d look at me with that look when I described my latest venture, talking about apprenticeship, or our code retreats. A look that said “and how will you make money?”
She also reminded me how to go to a meeting. Read the materials ahead of time. Think of questions, look for problems or errors. Throw some rocks at it and see if it holds water. Then go prepared. Rarely a board meeting went by where she didn’t find an error in the previous minutes, or a by-laws question.
Nancy was an ally to the LGBTQ community, she went to every flag raising we did in Oshawa against homophobia and transphobia, transgender visibility month, she attended PFLAG galas and donated money to help us in our outreach to help the community. I could tell the groundwork she’d laid, people knew me or of me, knew what things were about. She’d give tips on navigating tricky processes, and she was nearly always there to hug when I arrived. Nancy went out of her way to be an ally for the community, and for me.
Nancy and I were about the same height and had the same shoe size, and thus the same challenges finding clothing in a world that caters to “regular size women” (whatever that means). When I saw myself as too tall, feet too big, feeling bad about my body, un-womanly, Nancy reminded me. Women come in all shapes and sizes, even mine, and every shape holds dignity.
She departed true to her nature. Insisting she was fine, continuing her work, until she wasn’t. Then, in a heartbeat, she was gone.
Nancy reminds me that every day on this earth is an opportunity to do good, or do nothing. To improve, or be complacent. To serve others, or to spectate.
I endeavour to do her spirit justice before it is my turn to leave.