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Passion for helping people

Betty Fitzgerald enjoyed a visit from her neighbour, four-year-old Owen Sheppard. Contributed
Betty Fitzgerald enjoyed a visit from her neighbour, four-year-old Owen Sheppard. Contributed

After two decades as the mayor of Bonavista, Betty Fitzgerald continues to find ways to give back to her town and surrounding communities.

Fitzgerald grew up in Gander and moved to Bonavista in 1959. She has been contributing to her community ever since. She and her husband, Edward, (who passed away in 1999) raised four children. She has seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, with a 10th great-grandchild on the way.

Fitzgerald always found ways to continue learning and spent 28 years working at the hospital in Bonavista. She also worked several part-time jobs to provide for her family, while holding down her full-time position at the hospital.

Fitzgerald served as the town’s mayor from 1997 to 2017 and was on council for the eight previous years. Since her retirement, she continues to be involved in numerous community causes and organizations, such as the Matthew Legacy, the Bonavista Historic Townscape Foundation, T.K. Kelloway 50+ Club and the Sea and Sky committee.

She’s also the CEO of SaltWater Community Association. The association works to improve the lives of those living in communities from Clarenville to Bonavista. The group has supported seniors in the area and is currently raising money for scholarships for high school graduates.

“The association is working for our whole area and that’s something I always wanted to see happen ... so when they asked me to be their CEO and mentor, I agreed to do that,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald stresses the importance of community partnerships. She learned a great deal about that while serving as a board member of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) and as a member of MNL’s Urban Municipalities committee, she said.

“I learned a lot about what the towns and other municipalities are doing and we talked about how we could make it better here in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Fitzgerald said her dream is to see the association get the support it needs to work on various programs on both sides of the Cabot Loop and to see The Matthew completely rebuilt. A full-size replica of the ship was reconstructed in 1997 to commemorate the 500th anniversary of John Cabot’s 1497 voyage. The ship is in need of major repair and restoration.

Fitzgerald recalled Queen Elizabeth II visiting the town during the historic celebrations. The events sparked tourism in the town, she said, but the fishery remains Bonavista’s main industry.

When asked about her early years on council, Fitzgerald suggested that back in those days, women could certainly “upset the apple cart.” There was a time, she said, when she felt she wasn’t being taken seriously by some council members.

“I spoke up and told them, ‘I got elected just like you people ... and you’re not going to ignore me. You’re going to listen to my concerns just like I’m listening to yours.’”

By speaking out, she said, she earned the respect of the councillors and they continued to work as a team for the betterment of the community.

John Norman was elected the town’s new mayor after Fitzgerald’s retirement. He was out of town and couldn’t attend Fitzgerald’s 75th birthday celebrations on Jan. 27, but sent her flowers and delivered birthday greetings via Facebook on behalf of council for her “commitment to this community for all these years.”

Craig Pardy, Bonavista MHA, was among those who attended Fitzgerald’s birthday celebrations. He’d gotten to know the former mayor since becoming MHA in 2019 and describes her as “an exceptional community volunteer.”

“Her focus was always on improving the plight of others, preserving the heritage and any topic that has the opportunity to enhance the economy of the area,” Pardy said via email.

He also recalled Fitzgerald being outspoken on numerous occasions during her years as mayor. Whether through a radio talk show or while being interviewed at provincial conferences, he said, she spoke out about relevant issues and perceived injustices.

“[Betty] continues to champion causes and embark upon innovation for her area today as much as ever .... I am privileged to work with her when I have the opportunity and remain in awe of her stamina and unwavering desire to improve the plight of others,” Pardy said.

When asked about her continuing commitment to her community, Fitzgerald downplayed just how much she does for others.

“That’s just me. I care about people. Just because I’m no longer mayor doesn’t mean I don’t care anymore .... I might be 75, but I’m not dead yet. I’ll keep doing what I can for this community and this area,” she said.

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