When I was a young reporter back in the mid-1970s one of my most dreaded assignments was covering meetings of the old Sarnia Hydro Commission.
My editor, Marceil Saddy, told me it was Sarnia’s version of the Senate, a place old politicians went when they were too elderly to serve elsewhere.
At my first meeting I saw what he meant. One of the commissioners was an ancient looking gentleman named Henry Ross.
In the arrogance of my youth, I saw him as an old fuddy-duddy. Little did I know that I was watching one of the final acts of a lifetime filled with achievement.
For Henry Ross was one of the best leaders our community ever had.
Born in Ridgetown, Nova Scotia, Ross joined the 1st Canadian Tank Battalion and served during the First World War. When that terrible conflict was over, he moved to Sarnia where he had a distinguished career as a banker.
He was elected to city council in 1959 and took over as mayor three years later.
Ross only held the top job for four years. But he accomplished more in that short time than some have done during much longer tenures.
With 1967 approaching, council was casting about for a ‘Centennial project’ to mark Canada’s 100th birthday. Some wanted to build a community centre. But Ross argued for a waterfront park. He pushed hard for it and Centennial Park became a reality.
It’s hard to imagine Sarnia today without this magnificent chunk of open space along the St. Clair River.
But Ross did much more than that. During his time in the big chair, council opened a new city hall and a new public library.
He was an exceptionally busy man. In addition to his work as mayor, Ross served as chairperson of Lambton College Board of Governors and as president of the Chamber of Commerce, Sarnia Golf and Curling Club and Sarnia Riding Club.
If I had it to do again, I would have taken Ross aside after one of those incredibly dull hydro commission meetings and interviewed him about his amazing life.
I would love to have that opportunity now, to find out what it was like to go to war on the Western Front in those dreadful early tanks, what life was like in the Great Depression or the wheeling and dealing that went on to create Centennial Park.
But back in the 1970s I was too easily impressed by appearances to realize there was a great story sitting right in front of me. I was yet to learn that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.