Where Are They Now? Helen Sparkes

Since her tenure as mayor ended 11 years ago, Helen Sparkes has volunteered in the community and enjoyed being a grandmother. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
Since her tenure as mayor ended 11 years ago, Helen Sparkes has volunteered in the community and enjoyed being a grandmother.

The NewsLeader catches up with a few familiar—and perhaps to some, unfamiliar—faces to find out “Where are they now?”

Helen Sparkes may be slowing down after her long career in politics—but only just.

The retired high school PE teacher spent eight years as a New Westminster city councillor before running unsuccessfully with the BC Liberals for New Westminster MLA and then being elected mayor for the first of two terms, both in 1996. She faced no challengers heading into her second term, so won by acclamation.

For years she was the face of the Royal City but quickly faded into the background after losing the 2002 election to current Mayor Wayne Wright.

But she certainly hasn't stood still.

She's served on numerous boards since then, including those for Massey Theatre, the Kiwanis Care Centre, the Fraser River Discovery Centre and Port Metro Vancouver. Since 2005, she's been a board director of the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation and has one year left to go.

But after all those years in the political milieu, does she miss it?

"No, not at all," she said without missing a beat, adding she does however, miss the people she worked with at city hall.

"It was wonderful. I enjoyed it while I was there," she said.

"But once I left, I realized the sacrifices my family made, especially when I was mayor. You get so involved with the community and what's going on and you live it 24/7."

Sparkes, 73, has seven grandchildren, ranging in age from two to 25.

"I know my eldest grandson … he didn't really know anything else but grandma being at 'silly hall,'" she said, referring to the name another grandson gave grandma's workplace when he was a boy.

In addition to spending more time with her grandkids, she and husband Fred travel a lot, another benefit of being out of the political game. She's also picked up curling at the Royal City Curling Club again after being off for 20 years.

"Life is good."

As for her thoughts on city affairs, Sparkes is reluctant to enter a discussion of politics.

But like many residents, she's quick to identify traffic as a concern.

"I'm quite upset about the traffic situation and the [Pattullo] bridge but I think council is standing their ground, which is good," said the Massey Heights resident, who called the congestion at 8th Avenue and McBride Boulevard "horrendous."

As for how New Westminster has changed, she said, "the town is certainly changing from what it was but I still think people are moving here because of the small-town feeling."

And while Sparkes spent years making big decisions on city council, ranging from whether to approve rezoning applications and tax increases to whether to allow a destination casino to call New Westminster home, it's a personal one that's got her and her husband stumped.

"The biggest decision for us right now is trying to decide whether we should stay in the house or go to a condo of some sort. It's really a difficult decision to make because we've been in this house 36, 37 years," she said.

"It's a tough one but we're working on it."

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