One of the most difficult political positions a person can hold, is that of Mayor for a small town. The resources are nowhere near as vast as in a large metropolis, and every action is scrutinized under a microscope for the entire community to see.
Gerri Lynn O'Connor, however, has successfully mastered the art of staying positive and being on top of her game, as Mayor of Uxbridge for nearly 27 years.
Born in Huntsville, Ontario, Gerri Lynn moved with her family to Uxbridge when she was 8 years old. Her parents were born in Norway, and after he moved to Canada, her father Per Hvidsten, was stationed at ‘Little Norway’ (a Norwegian Army/Air Force training camp in Canada during the Second World War), where he met his bride to be, Leila. From there, the couple moved to North Bay where Per started a printing business.
The owner of the North Bay Nugget, the local newspaper at the time, mentioned to Per the Uxbridge Times was for sale. The family made the move, and Per and Leila, along with their two children Gerri Lynn and Peter, moved to North Durham.
Per was quite the entrepreneur and purchased the Port Perry Star in the sixties, as well as opening a printing business. Gerri Lynn attended the local public school and high school, and was certainly no stranger to work. Along with helping out in the family business, she also had a job at Tier’s Drug Store in Uxbridge, as well as working as an usher and snack bar attendant at the Roxy Theatre.
After high school, Gerri Lynn decided to study business, especially since her parents owned two newspapers and a print business. She attended Shaw Business College in Toronto, and after graduation, became a buyer for the F.W. Woolworth Company. She also worked at Eaton Sound, a recording firm, where Gerri Lynn was fortunate to have met The Mama’s and the Papa’s, Lighthouse and many other groups of the day.
Married in 1968, Gerri Lynn has two children, and 10 years ago became a happy grandmother to little Layla.
Gerri Lynn felt her business knowledge was not being put to good use, working as a secretary, and decided to follow her family traits. She joined the Uxbridge Times as a journalist, as well as helping out with the financials.
She covered a year-ong debate by Council for an issue, which cost the town well over a million dollars. She was so disillusioned with the result by Council, that she decided to run for office and ‘make a difference’.
In 1980, Gerri Lynn ran for office against five men, in Uxbridge’s Ward 5, and won. When her parents decided to retire, son Peter purchased the Port Perry Star, and the Uxbridge Times went to daughter, Gerri Lynn. With politics on the horizon, Gerri Lynn sold the Uxbridge Times to its employees.
She was a feisty Councillor, refusing to accept anything which did not make sense. Two years later, she defeated Maustyn McKnight for the position of Regional Councillor. She held this for three years until 1985, when she was acclaimed as Mayor of Uxbridge.
Gerri Lynn is an extremely ‘hands on’ Mayor, becoming involved in most everything that dealt with the town of Uxbridge. I asked her what some of her accomplishments were, and discovered her modesty at not wanting to take credit. After a little probing, she admitted the senior’s hall on Marietta Street was one thing she was very proud of.
“We built it nearly 20 years ago, and it is still a great source of all things senior,” She explained.
Another check mark on her list of endeavours, is the second ice pad in the early nineties. “People need recreational facilities,” Gerri Lynn remarked and the fact that Uxbridge has 235 km. of trails is a testament to her drive.
The Town also purchased the fields of Uxbridge, which, through grants and fundraising, is becoming a fantastic recreational area for outdoor sporting activities.
In 2006, Gerri Lynn decided it was time for a sabbatical, and retired from politics to be there for her grandchild. She eventually submitted to the constant pressure of people wanting her to run again, and in 2014 she successfully regained her title as Mayor of Uxbridge. She continues to work diligently to fulfill the needs of the community.
“I am extremely pleased we have substantial reserves, in case of unforeseen catastrophes,” she explained. “We have raised enough capital to begin construction of our much needed, new fire hall. Best of all, the cost of the project will not affect taxes.” I smiled as she stressed the word ‘NOT’.
The town’s current project is a reconstruction of a new culvert under Brock Street. Without it, serious destructive flooding could take place. Gerri Lynn grinned as she explained, the region and the Federal Government are fitting 50% of the bill.
“I plan to continue to maintain and expand our infrastructure,” she continued. Modestly she boasted that Uxbridge has 325 km of roads, of which only 60 km. are not paved. “Our goal is to pave 10 km a year, so by 2022 there will not be any unpaved roads.”
Gerri Lynn O’Connor is the Mayor of Uxbridge, and thoroughly loves her job. “I love this town, because it has a heart and a soul,” she said smiling, and picked up the phone to answer another of the many calls and challenges she faces every day.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a photographer, author, columnist and key-note speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com
Jonathan van Bilsen
Join Jonathan van Bilsen in the Standard as he begins a series of feature articles on prominent residents of North Durham in his new column, The Story Behind The Person.