© — Photo by Rhonda Hayward/The Telegram
For the first time in more than 20 years, Gerry Colbert won’t be on the ballot during a municipal election.
After pulling through what might be considered a near-death experience, Gerry Colbert says his desire to leave a legacy to his young family and make a difference in his city is what guided him through his life for almost a quarter of a century.
"In the late '80s I got really sick. I had a blood disorder. I was on 100 milligrams of prednisone a day for a year, put in the hospital. I had a 20-inch neck and I was 350 pounds," the outspoken St. John's councillor said.
"I was always active in the city. I'm a townie, but I said if he's calling me home" - pointing towards the sky - "I'd like to make a difference to where I was born and raised before I go."
Colbert said he had a young family at the time and he wanted to leave them something to remember him by and, hopefully, make some contribution to the city.
The former Newfoundland Power manager was blessed or cursed, depending on who you ask, with perseverance, persistence and a dogged determination that won't allow him to quit any undertaking until he accomplishes what it is he set out to do.
Whether it's taking on city hall, the Department of Education, Memorial University's administration or training for the Tely 10, Colbert goes at it with gusto.
"That's just the way I am. I was always like it. I remember as a kid saying I was going to make money at the Regatta and they all said I was nuts," he said, stretching out his arms and coming up over the table.
"I walked down to the Regatta from Rabbittown where I lived, with my bucket and an egg cup and I came back with a pocket full of money. I put the cup in the bucket and if you could drop a quarter in it I'd give you 50 cents. If you didn't I kept your money," he said, laughing.
Two years ago, Colbert said, his friends and family questioned his sanity because at the ripe age of 59 he decided he wanted to run the Tely 10 and he would break 90 minutes. He did it in 86. He had hoped to do it this year, but a leg injury prevented him from training.
His tenacity and friendly disposition has served him well, helping him win six consecutive municipal elections, but this September, for the first time since 1990, St. John's residents won't have the opportunity to mark an X next to Colbert's name.
He says the political fire in his belly is nothing more than a smouldering cinder these days and it's his time to step aside for the younger crowd.
"I've been retired for a while now. My wife is retired, the boys are raised. You got to have the fire. If you don't have the fire, I don't care what you do in life, once the fire burns out it's time to move on and do something else," he says.
"The fire is dim, the music is playing and it's time for me to try to relax, but I know I won't because I'm already planning things," said Colbert, adding he and his wife just completed the dog therapy training program with St. John Ambulance with their miniature Australian shepherd.
After being through four mayors - Dennis O'Keefe, Andy Wells, John Murphy and Shannie Duff - Colbert says he has had the pleasure of meeting many colourful characters over the years and has seen councillors come and go depending on how they are viewed by the voters.
"People decide who are going to be the councillors and voters are never wrong. They vote who they want in. If they don't want you after four years, they say thank you very much for your service to the city and goodbye for however many terms," he said.
"I like municipal politics because everyone is different. It's not tied to a party. There's no caucus. We just work together as a council," he said.
What is your full name?
I was named after St. Gerard, the patron saint of mothers - Gerard Martin Joseph Colbert.
Where and when were you born?
In St. John's in December 1952 at St. Clare's Mercy Hospital.
Where is home today?
What was one act of rebellion you committed as a youth?
Probably being involved in the strike at Brother Rice in 1969 and in 1970 at Memorial University. Holy Cross burned down and we had a shift system at Brother Rice. The government promised (it would be) only for one year, but they changed their minds, said it was working pretty good and the students said, oh no, this is not going to happen. We took over the administration building at MUN because of a tuition issue.
What was your favourite year?
2003 that was the year I handed six sets of keys to six children and their families. I took a year of my life and volunteered as a working chair for Habitat for Humanity to see the building of six houses in six days. I look back on it and I can't think of anything that gave me greater satisfaction.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Certainly in the city of St. John's doing some volunteer work for somebody.
What is your favourite food?
What are five songs in your music?
Songs, not so much - the Beatles, and I've gotten to love Sting.
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
What is your greatest regret?
Probably not taking time when I was young to backpack across Europe.
What's the roughest thing about your job?
Tough thing about council is the time after work. It's not 9-5. Most people want to see you after work, all the meetings are after work.
If you could visit or live in another time, when would that be and why?
I would have liked to live in a small outport community during resettlement when Joey Smallwood said burn your boats. To be part of that change which would have been both traumatic and dramatic.
What's the coolest thing you have ever done?
Being chair of Habitat for Humanity.
What was the most vivid dream you've ever had?
I'm not a dreamer. I'm a sleeper.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
There's thousands of stories, but this woman called me one day upset that I had the audacity and gaul to take one of my four-by-eight election signs and put it under the bridge in Bowring Park so people walking over the bridge would see my sign in the water. I said, you're not serious. You really believe I went out and put my sign in the water. I had to go out and fetch that sign with my father, who took 11 stitches getting down over the bank.
Who inspires you?
Creative people. I love creativity.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I bake and cook. I love it.
What is your most treasured possession?
A briefcase given to me by governor general Ray Hnatyshyn for my contribution to Canada's 125 celebration.
Who is one person, living or deceased, you'd love to have lunch with?
Pierre Trudeau. He enthralled me. He'd be cool to have lunch with.