On the pulse of Heart’s Con­tent

Cumby in 44th year as town clerk

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH - BY ANDREW ROBIN­SON

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.”

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