BY HUGH KRUZEL
Chats over coffee, meeting friends for dinner and, most importantly, more time for their spouses, are luxuries for three of Sudbury’s former politicians, who after years in the spotlight seem to have disappeared completely from sight. But not quite.
John Rodriguez, Jim Gordon and Rick Bartolucci are keeping busy. They may have left the building and parked their politics but they are loving life.
“Politics can be all consuming,” admits Gordon. “It was in my head 24/7. Then I had a feeling of excitement about each day. There was always a new challenge waiting, but I knew when I left it was the right time to go.”Gordon retired as mayor in 2003. Rodriguez only recently “paused,” and Bartolucci’s announcement he would not seek re-election was made in February of 2013.
This new phase of their lives is delivering deep satisfaction and pleasure.
With a big grin, Rodriguez, another former mayor, shares, “I am looking forward to next year’s annual family fishing trip. I now have the luxury of free time. I read articles leisurely rather than scan and run. While I was mayor, I used to instruct staff to highlight salient points. Now I get to read when I want and what I want…I find enjoyment in the richness of the language and ideas I am discovering and rediscovering.”
Rodriguez was the NDP MP for Nickel Belt from 1972 to 1980 and from 1984 to 1993. After a career in Ottawa, he resumed his life as an educator. In 2005, at the age of 65, he was forced to retire from teaching. He became mayor a year later and served one term. He was defeated in 2010 and ran again unsuccesffuly in 2014. He celebrated his “official retirement” from politics at a large party earlier this year.
The three politicians have had parallel launches and finishes. “We all had a similar trajectory: we all were teachers, then school principals, and have a long history of serving the community,” Bartolucci points out.
Bartolucci is a former city councillor who went on to represent Sudbury at Queen’s Park from 1995 to 2014. He held several cabinet posts in the McGuinty government. He has been retired for just over a year.
“Stress suddenly disappeared. I’ve lost 32 pounds!”He and his wife, Maureen, went to Florida for an extended period after he retired.
“Maureen and I walked on the beach daily and held hands every time. We have the whole of the rest of our lives to look forward to,”observes Bartolucci. Decades of early rising means that at 6 am he is up examining the newspapers. It is a habit hard to break. “We would usually be coming in from a walk that started at 5:30 am. Maureen and I have four or five different routes. Walking is wonderful. We now have time for each other. I make Maureen breakfast every morning now. I can finally spoil her. For 20 years she allowed me to do what was important for our community. We have restarted our life together.”
Maureen says, “What is the best thing about Rick being retired? Well, there is a built-in babysitter for the newest grandchildren. We now work together on the flower beds. He loves doing the grocery shopping and planning and preparing the meals for the week. It is like I have an instant housekeeper. I am spoiled beyond belief.”
Gordon was the city’s mayor 17 years and a member of provincial parliament from 1981 to 1987. He served briefly as a cabinet minister in the PC government of Frank Miller (1985).
“Jim in politics was a family affair,” says his wife, Donna. The Gordons have been married since 1960. Six daughters and 10 grandchildren keep them very busy.
“We have 23 years in the countryside here at the lake and love it. We have a calendar for friends and each of the girls is welcome anytime. For a more northern experience, we go to our cottage. We are on an island in the North Channel,” says Donna.
Jim says, “I’ve been building pathways and trimming undergrowth to reduce mosquitoes. Hauling propane tanks. I do lots of lifting. We didn’t have any electricity there until recently. We have just invested in solar as a long-term commitment. We have a sauna as I enjoy swimming. Northern Ontario lake water can be somewhat bracing!”
Gordon looks as slim and able as he did in the 1976 portrait for his first year as mayor that hangs in the living room of his home These politicians faced many challenges during their years in office as Sudbury reinvented itself from a one-industry town to regional capital. In bad times and good, these three men stepped up to the plate and asked, “OK, how do we make this situation better?”
Mining machinery manufacturing, the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Collège Boréal, music and film industry investments and so many other initiatives were nurtured under their watch.
Sudbury got a new hospital, opened Science North (and then Dynamic Earth), saw major investments in infrastructure, and improved quality of life generally. We can’t forget all the efforts of regreening.
“We made these issues priorities and found money to make them happen,”says Gordon.
After so much work, it was time to pass the baton. “We have to encourage the next generation,” is a comment from all three. There is another common admission: “I committed to a promise to not to engage for a year,” admits Bartolucci.
“I’ve been tempted to weigh in,” admits Rodriguez. “I am certain we are all still concerned about what is happening in the larger world, our country and our city.”
Local, regional, and national issues,“you just can’t turn it off and walk away,” states Gordon.
There is no doubt that expert panels, organizations, and boards are just waiting for these knowledgeable gentlemen to be stirred up enough to want to come back and lift the lid of a special project; to taste and flavour the soup of some social issue.
On this theme, open kitchens are front and centre and the hub of each of the family homes. With five sons, Rodriguez and his wife, Bertilla, host family dinners often. They live adjacent to a lovely little lake where lunch is often en plein air for six grandchildren and their friends.
The Bartoluccis have embraced the table with a wrap-around space featuring lots of work surfaces for the multigenerational mix that usually happens.
Donna takes command in the Gordon household but acknowledges,“Jim does spurts of cooking.” A screened in balcony clearly is a favourite spot for sandwiches and snacks.
The Gordons might not be in the spotlight anymore, but they don’t seem to notice. They’ve gone “Hollywood.” They spend their winter holidays in Hollywood, Florida, where there are “amazing clubs where we can tango and waltz; we float across the floor together,” says Donna. “We have always loved to dance. Dance is physical, social, and intellectual; we have met so many wonderful people through this pastime. We want to dance around the world.”