Photo: Colley-Vegh poses with Elizabeth Kishkon outside Huron Lodge in Windsor.
Take The Lead – Leading Our City – Elizabeth Kishkon
Since we are heading to the polls in October to elect our city officials I thought it was appropriate to profile one of our past city leaders — Elizabeth Kishkon — the 29th Mayor of Windsor, from 1983 to 1985 and, to date, the only female Mayor in Windsor’s history.
I ran into her when I was visiting a friend at Huron Lodge and she seemed flattered that I recognized her and knew about her political past.
Kishkon’s name had recently come up during a conversation at a campaign readiness workshop for women, this past fall, at the University of Windsor. As we were talking, at the workshop, about the difficulties of balancing family and career and lack of day care, I mentioned to someone how Kishkon managed to raise four children, with one heading to college, during her time as Mayor. She also served as an Alderman, 1970-71 and again in 1981-82.
I was excited to meet up with the 87 year old trail-blazer and asked Kishkon what first made her interested in running for politics. Her answer: “It was sparked by our fight to preserve Peche Island.” When she was Secretary of a group trying to protect this green space from development, she was encouraged by a group of men to run for Alderman and won the seat in Wards 1-5. Her passion for developing parks and green spaces for children and families was recognized in 2017 when they re-named a park off Banwell Road, “Elizabeth Kishkon Park”.
I also asked her what she thought about the political progress of women in Windsor and their lack of representation (it is actually less than in the 1950s) and if she thought that balancing family life was still an issue.
“I realize they are trying to remove barriers in some areas by offering on-site child-care opportunities, but we did not have day care support in my day,” she replies and adds “you had to work it out and, if you really wanted it, you had to find a way.”She also mentioned she left a job at CBE Radio where she hosted her own program, to make half the money in politics, but to her, she “felt it was a worthy sacrifice to serve our community.”
We talked about the effects of social media on the position and the constant criticism and bashing from bloggers. She said she always had two telephone lines in her home with one dedicated to giving all citizens access to voice their issues and concerns and to get help from her. Kishkon established a council of representatives of youth and was concerned with their access to parks and amenities.
Kishkon was born in Oshawa, Ontario, but raised in London, U.K., moving back to Canada in 1948. She had the opportunity to meet Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip as she hosted a royal visit in 1984 as Mayor. She was a powerful speaker who won the mayoral race by 15,000 votes and was asked to run for the NDP Party by Ed Broadbent, but she declined.
She was granted a honourary degree at the University of Windsor and appointed to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
What impressed me the most was that you could still see her spark and passion when you get her talking about politics. She is as sharp as ever and not afraid to give her opinions.
She asked me why I was not running for a position when I asked her for advice for women entering this career. I told her it never seemed like the right time and involved too much negativity. Kishkon told me that she “would work 18 hours a day to raise a family and hold a position in office” and her advice is to believe in yourself: “If you think you can do it, and stay positive, you will find a way to do it, no matter what the obstacles.”
Editor’s note: Sadly this interview (conducted in mid June) may have been one of the last granted by the former mayor. Elizabeth Kishkon passed away on August 29. 2018.
January 7, 1931 – August 29, 2018
Sherrilynn Colley-Vegh is the Director of Leadership Windsor/Essex at United Way. She is a former Principal, Chief Communications Officer and business owner with over 30 years of experience in education, administration, mentoring, and consulting and community leadership. If you know a leader in the community to profile here please email: [email protected].