This town is chock full of extraordinary people! If you know someone who is walking to the beat of their own drum or doing something unique with their life, I want to know about it. Email me at [email protected]
You can do anything you put your mind to.
That simple saying means so much to Fran Coleman. She knows it’s true. There have been many occasions over the course of her life that she believed she could and she did. She knows the feeling of glory when you win and she’s also experienced defeat. She’s been over the moon with happiness and down in the dumps with depression. But Fran’s willingness to grab life by the horns and never look back is her strong point. That quality has allowed her to live a very full life with no regrets.
She’s the kind of woman who has it all together. She looks like how she feels; she has a great tan (because, well, she tans easy) and her nails are done and her hair and makeup make a lady-like statement. Fran is elegant and classy with hazel eyes that are deep and meaningful. She knows this town like the back of her hand and she also knows that the people in it are its heart and soul.
“I just turned 75 this year and I’d like to say I’m not slowing down,” she says. She pauses for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “I do feel it, though. If I have two or three things planned for the day that’s enough. There was a time when I used to leave the house at 7 a.m. and I wouldn’t get back home until 11 p.m. Sometimes well after midnight.”
Community-minded with a love for politics, Fran has been a guiding force behind so many of this town’s projects and endeavours. The list is endless. Truly, it is. To sum up all that she’s done would take thousands and thousands of words. She’s been involved in Chrysalis, the G8 Summit, housing and social services issues, Hospice Huntsville, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (she was part of the town’s doctor recruitment program) and Muskoka Victim Services. She was a district and town councillor for 20 years and there was even a time when she served as Huntsville’s deputy mayor. She’s campaigned, canvassed and volunteered for her entire life.
There was no ulterior motive. Everything I did was because of my love for this town. It was an honour and privilege to serve. This community rallies. We’re very unique. People give when they need to, and they step up. And it’s because they’re proud of their community.
As a little girl who grew up in a tiny farming community in Simcoe County, she remembers going door-to-door with her parents handing out brochures at election time. So, that, she says, is really what planted the seed. But it was moving here more than five decades ago with her husband, Ron, a policeman, that allowed Fran to get involved in a passion project that would spark national attention. The year was 1981, when a group of policemen’s wives rallied around a kitchen table to take a stand for what they believed in. At the time, policemen patrolled alone and weren’t required to wear protective vests.
“We wouldn’t have done if we didn’t think we could make a difference,” she says. “You always have to try. We went into it optimistically, but we had no idea it would happen the way it did. It was good for us as wives to be together doing something proactive… for our own well-being. We went right to the premier of Ontario and we had a private meeting where we told that it was going to happen across the province.”
Helping to win the right for policemen to be protected with vests while in the line of duty (as well as igniting the beginning of two-man patrols) gave Fran a newfound confidence. She believed in herself, and not only that but she believed in the notion that a group of small individuals can do something in the community and make a huge difference.
That was the start of me realizing there’s nothing you can’t do when you put your mind to it. You just have to want it.
It would seem that doors were always opening for Fran. Or when one closed, another opened. She went on to become appointed to sit on the National Parole Board in which she, along with a small panel, interviewed inmates for release. Ultimately, Fran had a hand in protecting society. The job was a big deal.
“I was not a judge or a lawyer. I was a citizen of the community who they believed was open-minded with a strong sense of community. And I was tough,” she says. “You made no wrong decisions on the day you made them. I also learned that taking rehab programs was beneficial, which is why I went on to learn the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.”
For three years, Fran travelled back and forth to Kingston and other institutions, such as Beaver Creek, interviewing inmates as part of the parole program. It was a part-time gig, and Fran is thankful for that. It was a lot to take on emotionally. She had to teach herself not to internalize the horrendous things some inmates did. The learning curve was immense.
“It was huge and it was such an honour. Before that I worked at the Dominion Store at the snack bar where I was known as the hot dog lady. I went from a hot dog lady to a parole board lady. I’ve had a very diverse career and life,” she says.
It wasn’t too long after that Fran got involved with politics at a local level. Becoming a member of district and town council gave her the opportunity to meet new people. She got involved with housing and social services issues so much so that a room is named after Fran at The Pines in Bracebridge. A bursary is also named in her honour for all the work she did with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Fran has lived in Huntsville for 56 years and has devoted a huge piece of her life to helping make this town a better place. She stepped down as a councillor back in 2014 but that didn’t necessarily mean she was ready to throw in the towel completely.
“It was time for new blood and I was able to recognize that,” she says. “It’s good to have fresh ideas. It was time, and I’m happy I did. In the first year or two I really missed the people. My constituents and the staff at town hall. But the more time I had to myself, the more I started to enjoy my time.”
These days, Fran’s stepped back from her involvement in politics in a big way. She’s been enjoying her downtime but admits she isn’t ready to give it all up. She’s busy volunteering for Hospice Huntsville and Muskoka Victim Services, two causes that are near and dear to her heart.
“I can’t just sit back and bake cookies,” she says.
There’s a magnet on her fridge that says ‘Because family comes first’ and she believes in that as much as ‘you can do anything you put your mind to.’
For the first time in her life, Fran doesn’t have to put in long hours at the office. Her children are all grown up now, but that means she has grandchildren to enjoy. And an adorable two-year-old great-grandson. Fran likes to read and walk and pushes herself to take 10,000 steps every day.
“Life is interesting, challenging and rewarding,” she says.
Another thing she knows for sure.
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