New community services director 16943 Shannon Baillon (Bell) bring military, corporate, sports expertise to town hall
Reposted with the kind permission of By Desmond Devoy
The Perth Courier / Metroland Media East
16943 Shannon Baillon (Bell) never thought she’d be where she is – and yet, is exactly where she needs to be.
Baillon is the Town of Perth’s new director of community services, and she is so done with the commuter lifestyle. She lived in Richmond for two years and commuted in to Ottawa. Then, for 12 years after her move to Perth, she continued her commute to Ontario’s second largest city.
Now, her commute is only five minutes long – three minutes if she chooses to bicycle in.
“I’m super excited about it, for that to be done,” she said of her commuting life, which means she can spend more time with her husband, and their two children, a 16-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son, who both attend Perth and District Collegiate Institute. “I have no regrets.”
I really like structure, and for it to be clear who you do things. I will embrace that here. ~ Shannon Baillon, Perth’s new director of community services
Baillon was born in the village of Paisley, on the Bruce Peninsula, about 30 km from the shores of Lake Huron. She grew up on her family beef farm.
“I’m back to a small town (now),” she said. “When you are young, you want to get away and find the big world.”
In high school, she played “every team sport available. I was never a star, but I participated.”
She was a competitive curler, played softball, and was into running. She kept a journal for many years and recorded the day when, in Grade 5, she ran her first mile, and made it to the provincial curling championships once.
In her final year of high school, she decided that the military life was for her. So, she became part of only the second cohort of female students to enter what was then Royal Roads Military College (now Royal Roads University in Victoria, BC.) She later graduated from the Royal Military College in Kingston, but was shocked to learn that she was one of only two students to ever attend a military college from her high school.
“was the last (military college) to accept females. The guys (who were) traditional did not support it, were very upfront about it. They would find 100 things wrong with you.”
“I figured it was a shot in the dark,” she said, not the first time she would feel that way about a new endeavour. Once she was accepted and moved to Vancouver Island, she realized that “it was really, really difficult in many ways. It was very mentally taxing, exactly what you want military college to be. They break you down and build you back up.”
More than a few times, she would find herself saying, “Oh, God, why am I doing this?”
One of the reasons for this was that Royal Roads “was the last (military college) to accept females. The guys (who were) traditional did not support it, were very upfront about it. They would find 100 things wrong with you.”
As a first year student, she and her classmates were often given the more menial jobs, like delivering messages. She would arrive at an office and knock on the door. The door would open and, with it, so would a torrent of abuse.
As the door would be opened by someone whom she knew to be hostile towards female students, she would say to herself, “he’s going to rip me apart.” As the hostility continued, she would try to take it in stride and think, “OK, when are you going to stop?”
There were positive memories from military college however. She made lifelong friends, including her husband.
“It’s all about building teams,” she said, calling military school “a huge asset” in her life. “It gives you an advantage in how to deal with things.”
But adjusting to life after military college was still a bit of a shock.
“Not everybody comes to meetings five minutes before the meeting starts,” she said.
During her last year in Kingston, she competed in running, and, in time, made it on to the military’s national running team. She was a member of this team for three years, which took her to competitions in Florida, Ireland and Nigeria. While they did not lack for heart, unlike other military teams, who did nothing but train, the Canadians trained in between their military work commitments. She used her engineering degree to work on military aircraft.
In Ireland, she loved running through The Curragh in County Kildare, just to the west of the capital city of Dublin, beautiful farmland known for its horse breeding.
Nigeria, however, was a different story.
She was stationed in Cold Lake, Alta., at the time, and “I was in training in -40 degree (weather) and I went to run in 40 degree weather.” The Nigerian race was “not organized to the same level that a competition like that would be in Canada.” Part of their running course was a path that had literally been cut through a farm field, with animals on either side.
During her time in the military, she also took part in an Ironman Triathlon in the 1990s. She had the biking and running parts down. The running would take her 42 kilometres, while the biking was about 180 km. As for the 4km of swimming? Well, “I couldn’t swim at all.”
But her friends were supportive.
“You can run. You can bike. We’ll teach you how to swim,” her friends said.
She stayed in the military for four years, essentially paying back the education she had received. Most of her time was spent at Cold Lake, with a final year at Trenton.
At this time, both she and her husband accepted a voluntary redundancy packages from the military, which were being offered at the time. They decided that there was no better time to travel, so they sold their house and moved to South Korea to teach English.
“We were free spirits,” she said. “We taught kids who had never seen a Caucasian person in their lives.”
After their teaching engagement, they traveled around Asia before returning to Canada. They worked in Calgary for three years, where her daughter was born, but they soon realized that “all of our family is back in Ontario.” She got a job with Alcatel in Ottawa and they moved back east, having worked for a magnetic bearing company in Alberta. She had also worked for a prototype company out west and, “I started doing project stuff for them,” using skills she had first honed in the military.
After six months at Alcatel, she moved to Nortel for 10 years. Trouble started enveloping the company, leading to its eventual collapse, in her first week on the job.
“I never thought I would get my future from Nortel,” she said.
As she worked on software development for the company, “it started to really disperse at the end,” with chunks of the company being sold off to other companies.
As Nortel’s world was unraveling, Baillon realized that the company’s crisis could be her opportunity.
“We decided to take one year off and go travel Europe,” said Baillon. “(It) happened to be the same time as all of this was dispersing,” at Nortel.
“I never got laid off, which is interesting,” because she left work in 2010, the year the company’s operations ceased.
They traveled around Europe, mostly in France, tenting, camping and renting accommodation where they could. It was, in a word, “awesome.” It gave her family time to “get out of the rat race, seeing other cultures, appreciating your family.”
Soon, the family excursion came to an end, and her husband returned to teaching duties in Canada. She began working in the world of patent licensing buying and selling and proving out, doing “reverse engineering on gadgets, to prove technology related to those patents.”
If her research proved that a patent had been used, it would be ruled that, for example, “Nokia, you need to pay this guy because you used his idea.”
At the patent licensing office, “I created their project management department,” she said. As she looked around, and heard of their plans to set up an office in Ireland, she told her employers that, “Yeah, you kind of need to plan out some of this.”
Coming to town
After moving to Perth, she kept busy in her personal life too.
“I’m a fitness fanatic,” she said, an understatement as she lists off the fitness boot camp she co-runs, or her work with the Perth Stingrays swim team her children are involved in, or her work on the Perth Kilt Run committee.
“I love my town,” she said with obvious delight.
A few weeks ago came word that her predecessor, Shellee Evans, had taken up a new job in Gananoque.
“I knew Shellee,” said Baillon. “I said, ‘I wonder who will replace her.’” When the job was posted, her husband said, “‘You should apply.’ And I laughed.”
But in time, her friends and family convinced her that she had the “project management skills” necessary to do the community services directorship job.
“It’s the same principles,” she said. “OK, well, why not.”
In a very short period of time, she found herself in the town council chambers, seated before Mayor John Fenik, Coun. Judy Brown, and chief administrative officer John deRosenroll.
“I was a bit nervous going in, I suppose,” she said. “But I don’t shy away from people.” As part of her application process, she had to deliver two presentations, like she would have to do at town council meetings. Her first assignment was for a service review, the second for an economic development plan.
She played to her strengths, as one would in an interview, but was upfront about her shortcomings.
“I’ve never written a grant (application). Zero,” said Baillon. “A lot of it (the job) comes down to people skills. I don’t have to know everything about running a pool or heritage. I’ve gone into new situations a lot.” She said she is glad to have such an informed staff. “They have the knowledge and the expertise.”
Soon, the hiring committee had made its decision – and quickly, too.
“It was a very fast decision,” she said. “That’s what surprised me the most.”
Having worked in both the military and private enterprise, she said she has not seen a huge different in this, her first posting in municipal government.
“I really like structure, and for it to be clear who you do things,” she said. “I will embrace that here.”
She found things comparatively less structured in the corporate world, and “I know things will take longer here,” but “it’s a nice change. I like new challenges. I like change. That gets me excited.”
And unlike the military, which serves to protect our country, or business, out to make a profit and create wealth, at her new office, overlooking Market Square and Stewart Park, she takes pride in saying, “We’re here to make the town run and be better. I am working for the town I love.”