On the pulse of Heart’s Content
Cumby in 44th year as town clerk
On Mar. 1, 1968, Winterton native Alice Cumby started a new job with a newly incorporated town as its first-ever town clerk.
Who could have known that 43 years later, Cumby would still be the face behind the front entrance counter of the town hall to greet residents of Heart’s Content looking to pay taxes, ask questions about waste collection, water and sewer, or any number of issues pertaining to the operations of municipal government.
“I probably should have moved on long ago,” said Cumby with a hearty laugh as she sat behind a desk filled with papers. “I’ve always liked the job.”
No doubt about it, there has not been a face in the community over those 43 years that Cumby wouldn’t be able to put a name to.
The town was incorporated in August of 1967, having previously operated as a local improvement district overseen by a board. Prior to working for Heart’s Content, Cumby spent a couple of years as a teacher in Isle aux Morts on the west coast and New Perlican. After three years as program director with the Young Woman’s Christian Association, Cumby and her husband came to Heart’s Content. Frank Cumby spent 30 years at the post office.
“I just saw an advertisement in a store window saying they were looking for a part-time clerk,” said Cumby. “I applied for it and got accepted to the position, and at that time, it was only two afternoons a week.”
She had experience taking minutes at meetings through her past work experience, but there were aspects of the new job that Cumby admits she wasn’t entirely prepared for.
“ What I found when I started first is that I was overwhelmed with all the things a municipality has to do when it comes to regulations and the (Municipalities) Act. I think the big thing was the financial responsibilities — that you alone handled all the money and you were responsible.”
She remained a part-time employee for the first five years, but once the town gained a new water system, Cumby’s hours increased.
“It still amazes me to think of all the things I do. It’s a big responsibility.”
The nuts and bolts of her job as it pertains to carrying out the deci- sions of council have not changed much, but other aspects of her job have. Ten years ago, Cumby had to adjust to using a computer, a curveball for sure after 33 years on the job.
“It was terrible at first,” she said in a frank manner. “ When the computer came into the office first, I was very reluctant to even do it or handle it.”
New tasks to learn
Even now, Cumby is still learning new tasks such as updating the website.
“I keep updated. If there’s a challenge with the computer, I’ll get used to it. I was always the person who said, ‘If it’s got to be done, I’ll do it.’ And I’ve done it.”
Since then she has worked with dozens of councillors, and foremost among those has been Mayor Don Blundon, who has served on council ever since Heart’s Content’s first municipal election in 1974. Cumby said she has an excellent relationship with the mayor.
“I think he’s a people person,” she said. “ When it comes to dealing with problems, he tries to deal with them so things can be worked out. Don is a good one-on-one person.”
The thought of retiring has occurred to her numerous times over the years, but there was always something to keep her going. The Cumby’s were able to put all four of their children through university as a result of the hard work put in by Alice and Frank.
The population of Heart’s Content has declined dramatically over her time on the job. In the early 1990s, almost 600 people still called the community home, but now there are approximately 400 residents of the community. Two schools, a Newfoundland Light and Power district office, a Department of Social Services location have all vanished since 1968.
“And there were a lot of children here at that time,” she said. “It’s basically now a town of retired people. But it still has a lot of potential.”
There are plans in place to create a heritage district in the community, and the 50-plus club in the community is active and has over 100 members. The local heritage society has taken over Hayfield Memorial United Church and is looking at possibly renovating it for future usage in the community.
“ We’ve lost a lot, but still it’s a very active community. It’s adapting to what rural Newfoundland is today.”
A big attraction to staying in her job has been the opportunity to interact with the public. She said a good town clerk must be a people person.
“ You’re biggest thing with communications is getting along with the people, the taxpayers,” she said. “ To me, someone that comes here has to be someone that’s outgoing. You have to be able to deal with the people and their problems.”
Aside from maintaining good relations with the public, Cumby believes a good town clerk should do all he or she can to keep the public informed.
While Cumby has been the town clerk for a long time, she has no regrets about the career path she has taken.
“If somebody said, ‘If you had it all back, what would you do,’ I’d do it all over again.”