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BEING A POLITICIAN’S WIFE

Life takes unexpected turns at times. When Alex came home from work one day in the fall of 1974, his opening statement surprised me. Several colleagues at work had been encouraging him to run for political office in the Town of Walden. Apparently he had been mulling it over in his mind before he broached the subject to me. We have always supported each other in our ventures and this time would be no different. However serious conversation as to how this would affect our lives and that of our family was necessary. After weighing all the pros and cons we decided that he would put his name forward and make the announcement.

That first campaign for the position of Councillor-at-Large in Walden was extremely busy and a learning experience for both of us. This position was also the Deputy Mayor of Walden as well as a seat as a regional councillor in Sudbury. Alex went door – to – door to as many homes as possible beginning in September with the vote being in December. He decided to act as his own campaign manager which made his life even busier. I soon found myself answering the phone, taxiing the girls to their activities, dragging baby Allison with me wherever I went. The candidate was too busy, you see. Meetings in our home with people who believed in Alex added to our activities. Then the first all candidates’ meeting was announced. Alex expounded to me what he felt the issues were and together we wrote the speech. I’ll never forget how nervous I was for that first meeting held at Walden Arena! The place was packed and Alex acquitted himself very well. He answered questions and gave studied opinions on the issues of concern to the ratepayers. I was very proud of my husband. I must admit though that there were times when I wondered what we had let ourselves in for. I was also teaching full-time at Our Lady of Fatima School, which brought its own obligations with it. The children would say to me in the playground, “Mrs. Fex your daddy was at my house last night.” They thought this was just great! Alex’s slogan was “Mark your X for Alex Fex”, and it caught on. When friends and acquaintances would meet either one of us they would repeat this slogan, as did the pupils at school to me and to our eldest daughter Jacquie. Often as Alex knocked on a door later in the campaign, people would smile and say, “We know where to put our X”. Alex’s opposition was the incumbent Mrs. Gertrude Falzetta. Gertie was well – liked and a long-time resident of the Whitefish area. Her husband Frank was a businessman and also well regarded. To make a long story shorter, she beat Alex on Election Day by just 57 votes. Of course we were very disappointed! However such a small plurality of votes meant that we had to try again.

What had we learned? Well, for one thing – Alex could not be his own campaign manager. It did not make sense for him to be placing his own signs. His principal job was to hit the doors – as many as possible. Who should we ask? As we discussed this with friends and supporters the answer was obvious. Since I had already been answering phone queries and doing a myriad of other tasks, it made sense that I take that on and I did so willingly. Our daughters, the two older ones, also got involved, as did their friends by folding two thousand leaflets for Alex to distribute as he went door-to-door. This made the whole enterprise fun for the entire family. Their parents approved of these kinds of activities and because the children were involved, some of them began to help in other ways. That was a bonus! It had become my job to organize meetings in all parts of the Town of Walden, at our home, to plan “E – Day”, to prepare with Alex’s input – ads in the local newspaper. People were dropping in at our house at all hours and we sensed that the support was growing. While campaigning in Lively one afternoon Alex met a group of 4 little boys carrying one of his signs which read, “Mark your X for Alex Fex” and they were singing it as a song adding, “he’s your guy!” He really got a charge out of that! The requests for signs in people’s yards were more numerous than they had been two years ago. So many encouraging indications buoyed up our hopes.

Election Day, December 6, 1976, finally dawned and oh no, we had a snowstorm! Some roads in Whitefish were actually closed due to the heavy snowfall. It was a policy of Alex’s to visit every polling station at least once on this important day. A friend drove him to Beaver Lake and on the return trip they noticed that a car was in the ditch. Alex and Matti Joussi stopped to give the man a hand getting back on the road. As they were leaving the man said to Alex that he certainly knew where he was going to place his X! Unfortunately people lost their vote that day, as it was impossible to leave their homes. Some of these were our supporters and some were Mrs. Falzetta’s. I had organized the day so that we had scrutineers at every polling station. They were present for part of the day or in some cases the whole day to watch the voting procedures and to stroke off the names of the voters after they voted. They would call our home at various arranged times during the day where volunteers were also crossing off the names. That way we knew who of our declared supporters had voted and who might need a phone call to ask whether they needed a ride to the polls – also provided by other volunteers. This is referred to as “pulling the vote” – and it works! Some just needed a reminder that this was Election Day. Our scrutineers were also present for the all important vote count after the polls had closed. After that had been completed they were asked to either call our home with the results or bring them personally to the house and stay to celebrate with us (we hoped). This was the tensest time of all!

As the phones began to ring at about 8:30 pm, volunteers recorded the results. Alex and I just stood and watched what they wrote too nervous to do this ourselves. Mrs. Ida Groulx personally brought us her results from Creighton with a big smile on her face. We knew that we had won that one. Next our good friend Lois Rauhala arrived from the 1-A Waters School but she wouldn’t tell us anything until we gave her a beer. Yes, we had won that one too! Hopes were rising incrementally as we received these tallies whether by phone or in person and a festive air was developing in our home. Even our young daughters were becoming excited. By 9:30 pm all numbers were in and Alex was the new Councillor-at-Large and Regional Councillor for Walden. It was a fantastic present for his 35th birthday that day. On TV the announcers were asking all winning candidates to come to the station. Our house was bursting at the seams with well - wishers and friends and we did not really want to leave but we were nearly pushed out the door by our friends. They insisted that since I had worked so hard for Alex that I accompany him. That was fun! Joe Cook at MCTV interviewed Alex and gave him the opportunity to thank our workers and supporters. I had indicated to Joe that it was Alex’s birthday and he congratulated him on the air to Alex’s surprise.

That first inauguration was a wonderful occasion for our family. Our energetic hard work had paid off!

Alex was reelected two years later with the same full-scale effort put into it as during the first campaign. Two years after that he was acclaimed as no one challenged him. That was a huge compliment. In 1980 using the same procedures as we had previously, Alex won his third term as Councillor-at-Large. In all he served six years on Regional Council in Sudbury.

In 1982, due to the untimely death of Regional Chairman Delki Dozzi, Walden Mayor Tom Davies was elected by the councillors to be the new Regional Chair. Subsequently Walden councillors elected Alex to be the next mayor of Walden. That fall elections were held again. The times were different economically with interest rates at 20 to 22 % and the mood of the electorate was very negative as they were hurting financially. As a result Alex and every mayoral incumbent in the province was defeated. The only ones who survived had been acclaimed. Alex’s opposition was Charles White who claimed that he would do the job for one half the salary and in those difficult economic times that resonated with the taxpayers who did not seem to regard any other qualifications as being important. So be it – the electorate had spoken. I have to admit feeling crushed because not only had Alex put everything he had in running for election, he had worked extremely hard for his constituents while in office.

As time went on, while our life became less harried, Alex felt he needed to try once more to become mayor. This time I was less enthusiastic than I had been when this whole political journey had begun. However as the campaign progressed in 1985, and support showed up in unexpected sources, I was once again swept up in this venture. One particular man must be mentioned as being outstanding in this campaign and that was Dave Scott from Lively. Without us knowing anything about his efforts, Dave had painted signs on the sides of his truck as well as erecting a huge billboard in his yard – “We need leadership! Nov. 12, VOTE ALEX FEX”. Dave was at our home – once again election headquarters - by 8 am every morning. “Well, Erna, what do you need me to do today?” Whether it was erecting signs, going to speak to someone, taking our daughters or me somewhere, Dave was available always with a smile on his handsome face. One day during this campaign, Alex questioned something I had said and Dave replied very quickly, “Alex, Erna is your greatest asset!” Of course I loved that! Alex apologized immediately and I was not hurt, as I knew it was just due to pressure. Unfortunately, we lost this election. Dave was as devastated as Alex and I were.

Since then whenever an election is called, inevitably Alex is asked and encouraged to run again. His reply is always that he has moved on in life to other pursuits. It was fun while it lasted and we made many friends whose efforts and support we will never forget but as “the politician’s wife”, I must admit that I am happy that this hectic stage in our lives is over.

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