Anne Bilodeau

Community Living Essex County, friends and supporters bid farewell to retiring executive director

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

After a 32-year career as executive director with Community Living Essex County (CLEC) and 45 years total within the developmental services (DS) sector, Nancy Wallace-Gero is entering retirement.

And last Friday night, CLEC staff members as well as those the agency supports, dignitaries and members of Wallace-Gero’s family came out to celebrate her career.

A retirement celebration was held at the Ciociaro Club where Wallace-Gero was honoured with words like dedication, passion, intelligence, drive and role model coming up early and often to describe her.

Essex MPP Taras Natyshak added words like “amazing” and “loving” in describing Wallace-Gero.

“You are the best of the best,” he said. “You are an angel that walks among us. We love you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Essex MP Tracey Ramsey said when she was first elected, people would come to her constituency office seeking help and one of the places they were directed was Community Living Essex County. Ramsey said they were referred to CLEC with complete confidence as it was known thanks to Wallace-Gero and the team there that people would get the support they needed.

“Congratulations on reaching the next phase of your life,” said Ramsey.

Nancy Wallace-Gero (second from right) accepts awards from Essex MPP Taras Natyshak, Essex MP Tracey Ramsey and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Cheryl Hardcastle. Wallace-Gero retires as Community Living Essex County executive director April 13.

Windsor-Tecumseh MP Cheryl Hardcastle said Wallace-Gero is “an inspiration to the work we do” and that she would be missed. She added that Karen Bolger, who is taking over as executive director following Wallace-Gero’s official retirement date of April 13, will continue the great work started by Wallace-Gero.

David Hingsburger, a friend and colleague of Wallace-Gero as well as being an author and speaker on issues regarding developmental disabilities, noted they have known each other for 32 years and have made many changes over the years. He said organizations are only as good as their willingness to make changes and noted CLEC has never been afraid to make changes to benefit the people they support.

Hingsburger added that Wallace-Gero will take her passion and dedication into retirement with her “and continue to be the amazing person she has always been.”

Community Living Ontario CEO Chris Beesley said he has learned a lot of lessons from Wallace-Gero since assuming his post five years ago and said she is a leader who is committed to the cause for all the right reasons. Wade Durling, chair of the Provincial Network, added that Wallace-Gero’s contributions can be seen throughout the DS sector.

“You’ve made many contributions and the sector is better for it,” Durling told Wallace-Gero. “You have left a real legacy. We will miss you and never forget you.”

Retiring Community Living Essex County executive director Nancy Wallace-Gero (right) was “crowned” with a tiara from director of human resources Claire Market (left).

Anne Bilodeau, chair of the DSHR Strategy, added that CLECL “walks the talk” thanks to Wallace-Gero and the team. She stated that everything Wallace-Gero did during her career was selfless.

Wallace-Gero was also honoured by Kelly Runnals from the Ensemble parent group, fellow executive directors and the CLEC board, the latter having presented her a gift of jewellery two nights earlier at their board meeting and a honourary lifetime membership Friday night.

Members of Wallace-Gero’s family also honoured her, including daughters Kerri and Kristy, granddaughter Alexa and grandson Evan. Kerri called her mother “my definition of a success story,” noting Wallace-Gero’s adoption out of foster care at age five and Wallace-Gero being instilled with a need to help others and compassion for those with disabilities or other needs.

“Her passion for her work and her passion for helping others is contagious,” Kerri said.

Kristy added that her mother taught values and about social change, to be a leader and to challenge the status quo. Another lesson was to be humble.

“From the beginning, she was destined to achieve great things,” said Kristy. “She shines at everything she does. My mom will continue to shine on into retirement.”

Alexa noted her grandmother has changed lives and has instilled empathy in others for those with intellectual disabilities. She added that Wallace-Gero has taken on many challenges in her career, most of them to better the lives of others.

“I’m very thankful Nancy is my grandmother,” added Evan. “She is kind and loving. When people ask me who my hero is, I say my grandma.”

Nancy Wallace-Gero (centre) is surrounded by her staff during an April 6 retirement celebration. She officially retires from her job as Community Living Essex County executive director April 13.

Bolger said it was difficult to believe Wallace-Gero’s retirement has arrived.

“Community Living Essex County and Nancy are synonymous with each other,” said Bolger.

Noting the agency was struggling when Wallace-Gero took control in 1986, Bolger said Wallace-Gero has helped turn it around to where it is now vibrant, progressive and innovative.

“She is a consummate professional,” Bolger said of Wallace-Gero. “She is a person who talks the talk and walks the walk. She is a fierce advocate who gets the job done. She has never passed up an opportunity to move the agency forward. She has been my mentor.”

Wallace-Gero concluded the evening by saying how much she has enjoyed her career with CLEC.

“I am just so grateful to everyone,” she said.

Noting she has worked for 32 different boards of directors over her career, she credited them with having the leadership to move the agency forward. She also praised the management team for their work in helping to grow the agency and provide ongoing help to those with intellectual disabilities.

Wallace-Gero also thanked Ensemble and New Day, the latter being a group of self-advocates, and said giving up directly helping those with disabilities has been the hardest. She also thanked her family and friends, whose support has been tremendous, she said.

“I take with me into retirement memories of each of you. I have had the best job ever at Community Living Essex County,” she stated.