From near tragic accident to now
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
Renfrew County's new warden, Peter Emon, is accompanied by wife Alanna and daughter Lily at the inaugural session of county council.
Steve Newman, Renfrew Mercury
December 12, 2012
Life didn’t take Peter Emon where he anticipated.
Now 52, and having just entered his first year as Renfrew County warden, he’s busy but happy.
Happy with family life. Happy with his work in the healthcare sector. And happy to face present and new challenges as the new warden.
But in May 1979, while driving back from the formal at Renfrew Collegiate Institute, life took a terrible turn for the Calabogie native. The Grade 13 student was driving along Calabogie Road when he fell asleep, the car rolled down an embankment, and he broke his neck.
He had anticipated studying business, with a focus on sports administration, and playing football, perhaps at Wilfrid Laurier University or the University of Western Ontario.
“But once I broke my neck, it was pretty clear I wasn’t going to be able to continue to play hockey and football, and live that kind of lifestyle,” recalls Emon, who thought he might coach or work in sports management.
At the Ottawa Civic Hospital, he had vertebraes C3 and C4 fused, part of one toe amputated, and metal spikes inserted in his right shoulder.
“The accident left me with general weakness on my left side, but there were serious concerns at the time that I would never walk again.”
But he did walk again, and conversations with social workers and rehab workers convinced him he had the ability and skills to help other people.
Initially, Emon thought he might do work related to spinal-cord injuries. However, while studying for his social work degree at the University of Windsor, he worked four years as a summer student with Renfrew County Family and Children’s Services (FCS).
He was increasingly convinced this was his career direction, after taking school-year placements with a counselling agency and delivering food vouchers in a low-income neighbourhood of Detroit.
Emon says the work “showed me not everyone can be treated the same way. You can’t take the cookie-cutter approach.”
Coincidentally, he started developing that philosophy in concert with his FCS work and with his foray into municipal politics.
He began full-time work with Renfrew County Family and Children’s Services in 1989, and took political baby steps in 1988 when he was elected to Bagot and Blythfield Township council. He has been elected every subsequent term while representing either Bagot & Blythfield, Bagot, Blythfield & Brougham, or Greater Madawaska.
Through those 24 years in municipal politics, he has worked under council heads JR Easton, Barry Moran, Jack Frost, Paul Doyle and Isobel Kristijan.
Of those he says he fondly remembers “legendary discussions” with Doyle, whom he said was challenging, interesting and humorous.
Mentors for Emon in the political arena include Moran, a current Justice of the Peace and a fellow veteran of the Calabogie Lions Club. Another was Eldon Pennock, the former deputy-reeve for Bagot & Blythfield and Greater Madawaska.
“He worked constantly,” he says of Pennock. “He applied commonsense and fashioned good results. He was always talking about what had to be done next, and he never wanted recognition. And if he was going to change his mind about something, he’d tell you beforehand. He was a wise man.”
Moran, who later became Renfrew County warden, encouraged Emon to run for municipal office and to “think outside the box,” when necessary.
Now that Emon is stepping into the limelight as county warden, he says there are a few big issues.
But whatever the challenge, Emon says he’s excited about the opportunity.
“I’m actually very excited because I like to learn. And I like to meet people,” he says, noting he’s excited and determined to see the Eastern Ontario Regional Network broadband project completed. It’s supposed to provide high-speed Internet to about 95 per cent of the county by late 2013.
“I think the goal has to be 100 per cent coverage,” insists Emon of the need to fill in the remaining gaps.
“It’s a necessary household tool as well as a business tool,” says Emon, “because each level of government and services is moving toward more and more involvement and dependence on electronic contact with their customers and patients.”
Not the least of his challenges as warden, adds Emon, is the need to continue to push for the four-laning of Highway 17 well beyond Arnprior, for reasons that certainly include economic development.
Other challenges and focuses as warden, he says, will be to ensure the footprint of Canadian Forces Base Petawawa remains strong, and that support continues for the Ottawa Valley Tourist Association, the tourism arm for the County of Renfrew.
Given that the county has lost one railway and appears destined to lose another, and that $160 million is now spent each year by Renfrew County visitors, Emon says OVTA’s work is crucial to the county’s economic well-being.
Meanwhile, Emon says life at home is different, but the same.
The same, because there are regular questions for him and wife Alanna from their only child, six-year-old daughter Lily.
“It’s just fun all the time,” says Emon, who drives her to school weekday mornings. “Questions from Lily make me think all the time …You’re teaching them (kids) all the time and they’re teaching you.”
Also, a job change helped Emon tackle the demands of parenthood and municipal politics. After staying home for the second year of Lily’s life, he left Family and Children Services, to take a part-time job as a crisis worker in mid-2007 with Pembroke Regional Hospital’s community mental health team.
It’s all about matching resources to needs, he says.
“That’s what I think politics is, bettering the community and the people in it,” explains Emon. “And you should be able to do that without partisan heckling and posturing. And that’s the most disappointing thing for me when I look at the federal and provincial system. That’s why I enjoy municipal and local politics, because you get a true sense of what the issues are, and what the possibilities are to resolve them. And you’re free to fashion a plan to do so.”
Overall, Emon’s not complaining.
“I’m very happy with where my life is,” he says.
“My marriage is great. I have an awesome daughter and good support from my extended family. And I really like my community and the people in it. I like my job, and the people I work with are great. And politically, I’m engaged, and interested in what I’m doing and getting some results.”
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