GOSHEN – Six months after her death from cancer, one of Guysborough County’s most highly-regarded municipal leaders may soon receive Nova Scotia’s highest civilian honour.
In an exclusive interview with The Journal, Melissa Dort confirmed she plans to nominate her mother Jaqueline “Jackie” Dort – beloved community volunteer and deputy warden of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s before her passing in July at age 61 – for an Order of Nova Scotia early next year.
“I wanted to nominate her after she retired from municipal service, so that she could have been honoured for her achievements and contributions while she was still alive,” Dort said. “Sadly, I never got that chance.”
The award recognizes outstanding contributions in the arts, academics, research, agriculture, business, industry, community leadership, public service and volunteerism. Recording artist Anne Murray, painter Alex Colville, Nova Scotia Chief Justice Constance Glube and former Premier John Savage are among the recipients.
“My mother deserves to be recognized for the heart, soul and passion she put into everything she did for others,” Dort said. “Not many people know this, but she was buried with the municipal flag of St. Mary’s; that was such a huge part of her life.”
Even so, she added, “She was also a leader and district commissioner for the Girl Guides of Canada. She taught the Red Cross Babysitters Course. She tutored students who needed help, and [she] was a huge voice on home and school. She was also a hairdresser for 35 years. Mom did so much for so many people over the years.”
Marian Fraser, the municipality’s director of finance, couldn’t agree more.
“Jackie was very important to me personally,” she said in an interview. “She was always there with help and support. She was just this incredible person. A lot of people felt that way, and they still do.”
Fraser noted that a $3,800 education fund for local kids has grown handsomely since council established it in her name earlier this fall.
“There has been a $500 gift from Eastern Region Solid Waste Management and, just recently, a $200 contribution from Susan and Robert Mitchell, friends of the Dort family,” she said.
In the Nov. 9 letter accompanying their donation, the couple wrote: “The bursary criteria is for a graduating student who exemplifies qualities of volunteerism, community involvement, and leadership. Jackie set the standard for all those qualities. My husband and I are honoured to be a small part of this endeavor.”
That sentiment seems to resonate far and wide across the district and county.
“If it wasn’t for Jackie, we wouldn’t have anything in our little community,” her long-time friend and neighbour Teresa Grover of Goshen (one of the communities Dort represented on council) told The Journal in July. “We don’t have much, but anything we do have, she fought for it.”
Grover adds Dort “once tutored a girl, who was having trouble at school, for free. She’d go with lunches and cookies that she’d made. If you called her with a question, she’d get an answer for you. It didn’t matter who it was. It didn’t matter where they lived. She was always doing things like that.”
For Melissa Dort, the nomination project is also a deeply personal one.
“My Mom was a very loving person. She cared very much about her family. My Dad worked for the highways for 30-plus years and was a mobile mechanic; so many nights, especially in winter. We might be lucky to have supper with him before he would have to go back out,” she remembers.
“There was one night, when dad was working out on plow gear, and it was one of the worst storms we’d seen in a while. As I was sitting at the window, Mom came downstairs and asked me why I was up. I said because I was worried about Daddy and I wanted him home safe. She picked me up and told me that, no matter what, Daddy will always do his very best to come home to us. She said that no matter where she or Dad were, they would always be with us.”
Dort remains hopeful about the award.
“I need three letters of recommendation, plus my own letter as the nominator,” she said. “I already have one letter, but I’m waiting on two more. Once I have them, all I will be submitting my nomination forms. The deadline is the third Friday in March, and because Mom has passed away and [the rules say] I have to submit within a year of her passing, this is the only year I can do it.”
She’s also realistic.
“Nominating Mom for the Order of Nova Scotia is something I strongly believe [in] … but, even if she doesn’t get picked, at least I am able to tell her story of kindness and perseverance … how she helped others in her community without ever expecting anything in return.”
That may be the only honour that really matters.
Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal