With retirement waiting in the wings following a memorable 40-year career at Skate Canada, Nicole Guerin has a confession.
She almost backed out of the original job interview, all thanks to an elevator.
After four decades in the same Finance position she has held since day one, Guerin is bidding farewell to Skate Canada and stepping into well-deserved retirement. She will punch the proverbial clock for the final time on May 6th, exactly four decades to the day that she walked into the offices of Skate Canada, then known as the Canadian Figure Skating Association, for her first day of work.
Guerin laughs as she reflects back to that first interview, admitting she almost took herself out of the running for the job because of a fear of elevators.
Back in 1974, the shy 20-year-old answered an ad in her hometown Hawkesbury newspaper for an accounts payable/payroll position with the CFSA. Guerin, at the time working part-time in the finance department of a grocery store in Hawkesbury, borrowed a friend’s car and made the hour-long trip to Ottawa for an interview. Unfamiliar with what she refers to as “the big city”, not only did Guerin park in the wrong lot, but the large building on River Road that housed the CFSA head office cast a rather imposing shadow for the self-proclaimed small-town country girl.
When she walked through the front door and realized the office was on the 10th floor, Guerin, having never stepped in an elevator, turned around and walked back outside towards her car.
Not speaking a word of English was something Guerin figured she could overcome. Getting on an elevator for the first time, however, didn’t seem to be an option.
“I told myself I was not going, I could not get on that elevator,” says Guerin. “But then I said ‘I can do this, I have to do this.’ I went back in and got on that elevator. It was such a weird feeling. Everyone was speaking English. I was petrified.”
After riding the ten floors up, Guerin, walked off the elevator and straight into the CFSA office, telling the receptionist the only words she knew in English.
The same sentence she had been practicing all day.
“I’m Nicole Guerin and I have an interview.”
After filling out her application, she met with office manager Lois Hyland and was offered the job. She has handled accounts payable and signed payroll cheques at the CFSA/Skate Canada ever since.
To put the length of Guerin’s tenure in perspective, in 1974, Pierre Elliott Trudeau was Prime Minister of Canada, the average price of a new car was about $3,500 and you could pick up a quart of milk for under 50 cents.
And 20-year-old Nicole Guerin was about to set out on the journey of her life.
“Those first five years were not easy,” admits Guerin. “I was calling my mother almost every day. But I knew I had to do this for myself.”
For Guerin, it’s no coincidence her last day of work will come 40 years to the day that she started. May 6th, 2014, has been circled on her calendar for the past three years.
Guerin welcomes retirement and the freedom it will bring, even if the transition is going to take a little getting used to.
“It’s hard to say goodbye, a lot harder than I thought,” says Guerin. “This is a new, exciting time in my life, but I’ve been doing the same routine, day after day, for 40 years. It’s tough to say goodbye to the people.”
Of all the close relationships Guerin has developed at Skate Canada over the years, there is none closer than the one she shares with Diane Vanier. The two met when Vanier worked at the National Sport & Recreation Centre, located in the same building as the CFSA, 38 years ago. Six years later, Vanier joined the CFSA team.
They’ve been best friends ever since.
“Nicole is such a wonderful friend, and we’ve developed a very special relationship over the years,” said Diane Vanier. “It won’t be the same without her.”
“Yes, Diane means the world to me,” adds Guerin. “We’re like sisters. She is very special, she has been my closest friend for a long time.”
Skate Canada staff honoured Guerin’s remarkable career last week in Ottawa. Among those in attendance were former CFSA Director General David Dore and current Skate Canada CEO Dan Thompson.
“Nicole has been an integral member of the Skate Canada team over the past 40 years, and we would like to pass on congratulations as she celebrates her retirement,” stated Dan Thompson.
“Nicole has consistently been a model for service excellence and integrity throughout her entire career. On behalf of the Skate Canada family, I would like to wish her well as she sets off on this new, exciting chapter in her life.”
Over the course of her career, others who have sat in the Skate Canada CEO chair include Douglas Gunter, Hugh Glynn, Lou Lefaive, Patrick Sharp, Pam Coburn and William Thompson.
Guerin began her career in the era of adding machines and carbon copies, and finished with laptops and iPads. One thing that never changed, however, was her love of numbers.
“My job was changing for me all the time, but I was always very happy to learn new technology,” she adds.
“My specialty has always been numbers. It is my passion.”
So much a passion that Guerin watches the odometer on her car to make sure she doesn’t miss those moments when the digits roll over to match exactly. There haven’t been many times when Guerin has missed seeing the numbers change, whether it be 33,333, 88,888 or any other combination.
“Sometimes I’ve had to pay attention to the road, miss when the numbers change and get upset,” laughs Guerin.
“I have a sickness for numbers.”
As she gets set to ride off into the retirement sunset, Guerin says she plans on travelling the world, doing some fishing and golfing and “reading books in weeks instead of months.” She would also like to volunteer her time at local hospitals to assist patients filling out complex forms.
Guerin will not head into retirement alone – her husband, Denis, retired last month.
“He’s waiting for me,” she says. “We are going to enjoy this. We’ve waited a long time.”
“It seems like yesterday that I was taking that elevator for the first time. I’ve enjoyed every minute of this. I’ve never been great at words - numbers have been my specialty. I love being around people, and the people here are very special. I knew a long time ago I was in the right place and I wanted to stay for good.”
And now, four decades later, Guerin gets a little choked up at the thought of walking out the front doors of Skate Canada for the last time.
“Right now, I’m trying not to think about it too much,” says Guerin with a smile, her voice breaking. “I don’t want to cry.”
Retirement? That’s the easy part.
Saying goodbye will be a little tougher.