As the province prepares to bid farewell to long-time Mississauga mayor, Hazel McCallion, the Highlands’ David O’Brien is reminiscing on his 30-year friendship with the woman dubbed ‘Hurricane Hazel’.
The two met when O’Brien was city manager in Ottawa and McCallion on various Association of Municipalities of Ontario and Federation of Canadian Municipalities committees.
When the city manager job came up in Mississauga, McCallion asked O’Brien to apply and he got it. They worked together for 10 years, and became close friends.
“We clicked. We did our business of running a city together, and that worked well, and the friendship just evolved out of that,” O’Brien said.
The two stayed in touch after both retired. O’Brien would go to McCallion’s home every couple of weeks with coffee and cinnamon rolls. When he moved to Wilberforce, they chatted on the phone every couple of weeks for an hour or so.
“Whatever was happening federally or provincially, she liked to get together and chow down on that and have a little fun,” he said.
Their last phone call was a few days before McCallion passed away on Jan. 31. It was a shorter call, as she was weak and failing, but the two had a few chuckles. “It was definitely a goodbye call,” O’Brien said. He has been working behind the scenes on McCallion’s funeral plans. She will lie in repose at Mississauga City Hall Feb. 12 and 13. Premier Doug Ford has also announced a state funeral at 11 a.m. Feb. 14.
O’Brien said McCallion’s favourite line was “do your homework” and it was wellknown at city hall “you better come prepared because if you were mumbling along, she’d say ‘the meeting is over, go and do your homework, and come back when you’re ready’.”
He described her as straightforward, however, if a problem cropped up, she would have all the time in the world to sit with her senior leadership team to brainstorm solutions.
“She was tough, which was good and why the city became what it did … a no-nonsense mayor but always willing to help you out.”
He added she supported female staff in getting ahead in the organization and brokered on behalf of youth.
Another long-time mayor
Dysart et al mayor Murray Fearrey said he met McCallion on many occasions, most often at municipal conferences and provincial events. A few times, he sat next to her at strategy sessions, “and her comments on most, if not all, issues were clear, focused and definite.”
He added, “fiscal responsibility and common sense were her guides for managing Mississauga. Every municipal politician I know had the utmost respect for her as a lady and her leadership skills, the special dedication and commitment she demonstrated for 38 years. She was and will be a role model for years to come in municipal politics.”
O’Brien believes her legacy is the forwardthinking that made the City of Mississauga what it is today. He recalled how they had development charges before they were supported by the province to help the city get the infrastructure needed to keep up with growth.
Another example was her mayor’s gala, which led to the creation of the Hazel McCallion Foundation for Arts, Culture and Heritage. O’Brien remains chair of the board.
O’Brien brought McCallion to Wilberforce for a fishing weekend five or six years ago. Growing up in the Gaspe, she loved to fish. She got skunked and told O’Brien she didn’t think there were any fish in his lake. During the weekend, as the two sat on the dock, or stopped into Agnew’s General Store, he said people were in awe of her.
O’Brien worked with eight or nine mayors in his municipal career and said, “she will always be the standout. I travelled the world with her and met some very interesting people.”
He is out of the country, and while he will be back for the state funeral, he plans to watch it virtually. That said, he will make a trip to her gravesite in Stittsville in the not-too-distant future, “and just sit there quietly and we’ll have a chat.
“She was a force to be reckoned with, both politically and from a business point of view. She loved her community. I will remember her with great pride, great joy, as a good friend and a mentor and somebody that I had so much respect for.”