Former St. John’s city Coun. Debbie Hanlon has replaced her business suits and weekly agendas with colourful stretchy pants and a pink ukulele.
Former St. John’s city councillor Debbie Hanlon is looking forward to her life after politics — filled with writing children’s books and spreading an anti-bullying message. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
Having decided before the municipal election in September the political path was not the one she wanted to be on at this point in her life, she hung up her high heels and is now settling into comfy sneakers that will help her embark on a new journey.
“I never really made a commitment to make politics my future or my life,” she told The Telegram recently.
“I really liked my position as Ward 4 councillor. I felt I contributed. I was pleased with what I had done and I absolutely love representing the people of St. John’s,” she said.
But this isn’t what she wanted to spend the rest of her life doing.
Hanlon, on council for six years, said the political aspect wasn’t her thing and for about the third or fourth time she’s making serious life changes.
“I feel people should reinvent themselves all the time. Most people are afraid to take their lives in a new direction. I embrace it,” said Hanlon, who was once a successful businesswoman and real estate agent.
“I had a hard go of it last going off in my business career. I found when I sat back — because when you get so busy and get caught up in life sometimes you don’t realize the things you are doing or what you are going through — I realized I made a lot of mistakes mainly because I was bullied a lot, as a child and in the business world.”
She said when she managed to free herself from the toxic relationships that had developed over the years, she soon realized the dramatic effect bullying had on her life.
Hanlon started an anti-bullying movement several years ago through presentations designed for school-aged children, but she is trying to spread the message across the country.
It began Monday with a proclamation at St. John’s City Hall marking the third Saturday in October — which is anti-bullying month — “I’m No Bully Day.”
“I want to make a difference in the world. I want to do good. I have decided to dedicate my life to doing good and I am starting an anti-bullying movement in the province and it’s swelling into this amazing wave,” Hanlon said.
She said the anti-bullying presentation she developed for school children — which involves characters from her childrens’ books — is in more demand than ever.
In the past two weeks, she said she’s visited more than 15 schools, and on Tuesday gave a presentation to 400 children at Holy Trinity school.
“So there is a need for this. The schools are screaming out for it. I know the pressure the school budgets are under so I do it for free. It’s strictly volunteer,” she said adding this is obviously not how she makes her living.
She said while writing childrens’ books is her livelihood she’s developing an English program for the Korean market, but the anti-bullying movement takes up a lot of her time.
“More than 30 hours a week is only a joke preparing and visiting the schools and doing the presentations,” said Hanlon.
Next month, with the help of too many people to list and thank, she said she’ll launch a new website for children to share their stories — missdebbie.ca — based on the persona she takes on while delivering her message.
“We’re also going to launch a really cool anti-bullying kit. We’re trying to empower the bystander. There are far more bystanders than there are bullies or people being bullied,” she said.
Hanlon wants to empower people to follow the three Rs of bullying — refuse to be part of it; respect and lend a hand to the person who is being bullied; and report, tell an adult.
And if she’s not busy enough, she has put together an event being held today at the Bob Whalen Field in Bowring Park at 10:30 a.m.
“We decided to try to break a world record with the most number of people dressed as a witch in one place,” she said laughing.
She said Pedlum, England holds the current record with 482 witches.
People have to wear a witch’s hat and carry a broom. She said the Guinness Book of World Records has already recognized it as a challenge and everything is in place.
“We have area cordoned off an area with tape because they have to be in the one area, videotaped for so long and they have to say something and we’re going to say ‘I’m no bully.’ “We’re hoping to get the attention of the nation and it will grow and grow. It has to start somewhere so why not here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
What is your full name?
Debbie Ann Hanlon.
Where and when were you born?
Come By Chance, July 1965.
Where is home today?
What was one act of rebellion you committed as a youth?
Skinny-dipping in Bowring Park pool. All girls, we were 13 or 14 years old it was like a Grade 9 initiation into Holy Heart of Mary school.
What was your favourite year?
Every year is a favourite to me so this year, 2013.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself pretty much as I am only 10 years older. A grandmother, happily married, travelling, writing and speaking out about bullying.
What is your favourite food?
I love pasta, but other than that Big Turk bars.
What are five songs in your music?
“Haunted,” “Radio Song,” “No More I Love You,” “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow,” and “Girls Just Wanna have Fun.”
Who would play you in a movie about your life?
Easily, hands down, Meg Ryan. But there’s a reason why. When my son was four years old he watched a movie with her in it and he reached up and touched my face and said, “Mommy her eyes sparkle just like yours, Mommy.”
What is your greatest regret?
I don’t think I got any regrets. Who needs regrets?
What’s the toughest thing about your job?
My toughest thing right now is my anti-bullying presentation is 45 minutes long and every time I run 15 minutes over, which makes me late for the next one. So having to clew up in 45 minutes.
If you could visit or live in another time, when would that be and why?
I’d like to go ahead 100 years to see what happens. Basically, the past is done, history has been written so I’d like to see what isn’t done yet.
What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever done?
One of the coolest is the year before last I rapelled down Atlantic Place with my 71-year-old mother.
What was the most vivid dream you’ve ever had?
I have dreams all the time. My life is that busy I go to sleep dreaming about things I haven’t done yet.
What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
In Germany once someone thought I was Julia Roberts. I was in my 30s, and they wouldn’t leave me alone trying to get me to sign a piece of paper.
Who inspires you?
Lots of people — my husband and my mom and my husband’s mother.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I can bake and I knit.
What is your most treasured possession?
Besides my children? I’m not a material person, so my children.
Who is one person, living or deceased, you’d love to have lunch with?
I lost my Nan a while ago and she had Alzheimer’s, so really, I lost her years before that. So I’d like to have lunch with Nan before the disease.