When she was elected as mayor of Canada’s sixth largest city, Hazel McCallion could not have known she would serve twelve terms. The Mississauga mayor was in that office from 1978 until 2014, and although officially retired she is actually serving as special advisor for strategic development at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
Born in 1921, McCallion worked for Kellogg until 1967, when she left the corporate world for politics. That was the year she won her first election, as deputy reeve of Streetsville. (A reeve is the term used in some parts of Canada for the head of a town council.) The next year she was appointed reeve and never looked back.
By the time she was elected mayor of Mississauga in 1978, McCallion was well on her way to earning her nickname, “Hurricane Hazel”. She worked tirelessly on behalf of her constituents. Even at 93, her last year in office, she was rising every day at 5 a.m., doing her exercises, reading reports over breakfast, and starting her work day before most people even began their commute.
McCallion earned her stripes early in her mayoral career. She was barely into her first term in Mississauga when, in November 1979, a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed. In spite of an initial explosion visible 100 km away, quick acting on the part of the train’s brakeman avoided an even greater disaster. With fire still burning and the potential for the release of deadly chlorine gas from a ruptured tank, the city had to make a quick decision. Over 200,000 people were evacuated safely.
Mississaugans never forgot. Their leader had proven her mettle in a time of crisis. She kept reinforcing it throughout her long career. She also exhibited sound business sense, leaving behind a city completely debt free, with over $700 million in reserves.
People like Hazel McCallion are rare. They inspire us to live larger than we think we can.
Comedian Rick Mercer interviewed McCallion in 2009. Watch the video for a taste of her indomitable spirit. It will leave you smiling.