After working for the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake for 37 years, Holly Dowd is retiring.
She has been on leave since June, and the announcement from the Town comes as no surprise.
Dowd sent an email to town staff Monday morning to advise them of her plans and thank them for their support, and a letter from Lord Mayor Betty Disero was released to the public, saying Dowd’s retirement is effective Aug. 19.
An avid golfer, Dowd explains her retirement this way: “When I’ve been golfing recently, I find myself hitting the ball really hard. I’ve had so much on my mind, always thinking about work, always checking my phone and emails, people calling. I haven’t been playing well. This week, when I was golfing, it felt great. I feel great. It was my time to retire.”
Her two last games, she says, she’s shot an 88 and 89, her best scores ever.
Although she looks forward to having more time to golf, she admits, “I’m a little nervous. I’ve always been a workaholic. I haven’t quite figured out what I’m going to do, but I’m hoping to get on the board of the golf club (the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club), and I’ll do some volunteering. I’ll have more time to curl, and I just picked up a new bike. I’m getting on with the next stage of my life.”
Dowd, 56, says her husband Rob has been retired for two years from GM after a 37-year career there as well, and it was time for her to join him. They just celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary, and they both enjoy golfing, curling and biking and travelling. She will also have more time to spend with her family, including three adult children.
Many residents will remember Dowd from her years in the clerk’s office, where there were many opportunities for interaction with the public. She started there in 1982 as a secretary to the clerk, became an assistant, then deputy clerk and secretary to the committee of adjustment, and took the job of clerk in 2000.
From there, the title of director of corporate services was added to her job description, and then for a year she was director of corporate services and CAO, a job she agreed to take after Milena Avramovic left abruptly in 2016.
It’s unusual in this day and age, she’s been told, for someone to start at the bottom in one department and work their way to the top, as she did.
Dowd had worked closely with town clerk Bob Howse, before he retired from his job with the municipality and successfully ran for a position on town council. Martin Yamich, then director of corporate services, added the title of clerk to his job after Howse left, until then-Lord Mayor Gary Burroughs said since Dowd was doing the work of the clerk, she should have the title.
Howse was a mentor, says Dowd, one she could joke with — she says she learned a lot from him, but liked to tell him she was learning how to do things differently. “He was old school from a different era,” she says with fondness.
When the opportunity of taking on the job of CAO was offered to her, Dowd said she could have turned it down and retired on a full pension, but she was asked to help out. The previous council wanted her to look after filling some positions on town staff, and to bring up staff morale.
“I never wanted the job of CAO, but I thought I could help out. I did what I was asked to do,” says Dowd, “and I worked well with council.”
After the election last fall, she stayed on to “get the new council on board,” she says.
She’s been suffering from fibromyalgia for about 15 years, and it has been worse in recent months — the stress of the job of CAO was not helping.
“The pressure is off my shoulders now. I had a really good night’s sleep last night,” she says, once the announcement was public. “I can go on the golf course and not have to think about the Town. I thought I would miss that, but now I realize I won’t miss it at all. I’m going to miss the staff though. I loved the staff. The town does not have any idea how fortunate it is to have such great people, to have the dedicated staff they have. Right from the top on down, everyone has their heart in the right place. They take absolute pride in the town — and it’s not because of the beautiful gardens, although J.B. (Hopkins) does a great job. It’s Hans at the arena, the community centre gang, the faces you see at the front desk. They do everything they can to help and they take such pride in their jobs. It is a great place to work.”
The town has changed in her 37 years, says Dowd. “It was certainly smaller. At election time, I could go down the voters list and I would recognize the names. I would know who had passed away and who had moved away. I couldn’t do that any more.”
For those who have lived in town for a long time, it’s lost its small-town feel, yet for those who move here, that’s what attracts them, she says.
“The people who are coming to town now are just as passionate about it. This is where they have chosen to live, to retire or to bring up a family. They love it just as much.”
The other notable change in her time on town staff, says Dowd, was evident around the table when she met with other municipal CAOs from Niagara.
“I was one of the first female clerks in the region. I can’t say I was the first, but if there were others there weren’t many. Milena was the first female CAO in the region, and when I first sat at the CAO table I was still the only female.”
There are a lot of women taking jobs that used to be considered only for the “old boys’ club,” she says. While she has worked with many great men who have been very supportive, she appreciates there is more equity for women in the municipal workplace. “It’s good to see that change, to see women taking the top jobs and getting paid well for them.”
Letter from Lord Mayor Betty Disero:
It is with much regret that I write today to announce the retirement of our CAO Holly Dowd effective August 19, 2019. Holly has served the Corporation and the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake since March 1, 1982.
Over the years, Holly worked her way up through the Corporation, taking many courses, and in 2000 became Town Clerk. Holly continued her success and was promoted to Director of Corporate Services as well as continuing her role as Town Clerk. During this tenure, Holly instituted the Electronic Records System, modernizing the Town for the new millennium. Holly also instituted a vote tabulating system where ballots are counted by machines, overseeing almost a dozen municipal elections. She has worked with many Lord Mayors and their respective Councils over the past 37 years.
As part of the requirements from the Provincial Government, Holly refreshed pay equity in the Corporation and all job descriptions were reviewed and re-evaluated. She also streamlined the criteria for Council confidential, in-camera sessions in an effort to be more transparent to the public.
Holly represented the Town as an active member of the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario (AMCTO), sitting on many Committees.
Last term, when Council was going through a tumultuous time, Holly Dowd was offered and accepted the position of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). During this time, Holly negotiated the staff collective agreement in an amicable way, raising staff morale and bringing forward job retention measures. Holly was instrumental in bringing back stability at a time when the Town was losing employees at a fast rate.
As Lord Mayor, my own personal experience with Holly Dowd has been one of mutual respect. Holly has assisted in putting the Council Work Plan together, so the public knows what Council is working on, including target dates. Most recently, Holly has led staff and Council in bringing forward the Official Plan for adoption by Town Council on August 15th. The preparation of the Official Plan has been a long and arduous task, and Holly’s dedication has ensured that it will actually be completed.
Holly has had a long history of loyal and effective service to the Town and Council, as well as many years of leadership for the Town’s staff. Holly has earned a well-deserved retirement and our thanks.
I would like to wish Holly well in her retirement. She will be missed at Town Hall and by many residents and businesses in Niagara-on-the-Lake.