CHESTERVILLE — Eric Duncan exited the North Dundas political stage literally and figuratively at his final Mayor’s Community Breakfast.
With a wave, the 30-year-old veteran municipal politician departed the podium at North Dundas District High School after nearly an hour of sometimes emotional ceremonies at the same venue where he was first sworn into the mayor’s office at the tender age of 22.
Duncan’s 2010 inauguration as mayor was unusual for taking place in front of a packed gymnasium at the school — such was the public interest at the time — and Duncan’s return and final hurrah there drew 300 well-wishers last Friday, Nov. 23.
Steeped in politics from his earliest days, the former NDDHS students’ council “prime minister” and yearbook committee chair had graduated from that very stage — little more than a year before his first election as a teenaged North Dundas councillor.
Looking back at his 2005 graduation, Duncan jokingly said his principal “probably would have taken me off the stage in a straight-jacket” if he had suggested the roles of councillor and mayor were in his short-term future.
He described NDDHS as a “place very special me” and quipped about “feeling bad” for school staff “because I never really left after I graduated.”
“It feels like not eight years ago,” said Duncan, marvelling at the time elapsed since his first inauguration as mayor.
The outgoing mayor’s father, Ed — the “first father of North Dundas,” he joked — humorously recalled his son’s interest in policy and political matters even as a 10-year-old in 1997. They were headed to the former Stage West restaurant in Mountain, and “during the drive there, Eric asked me if we could have a debate on the health care system while we were having lunch,” he remembered with a smile as the crowd laughed.
‘What in the hell have we created here?” the elder Duncan said he later asked the boy’s mother upon returning to the JED Express office.
“We are very proud of what he’s accomplished in his life to date. Congratulations, son,” he added.
Bea Wigney recalled the day her son told them he was running for councillor in North Dundas. “We did have our concerns. He was only 18 and still in university, but knowing Eric’s determination and mindset, ‘We said, ‘Buddy, We got your back, we support you a hundred percent.”
Her voice growing emotional, Wigney said she “witnessed Eric growing as a young man who has developed a strong love for his community, not only the one he grew up in, in South Mountain, but North Dundas, and including the three United Counties…. I want to thank you for welcoming him into your homes and your lives. We as a family really appreciate it.”
“I could go on for hours about this wonderful man and the details of how he’s served our community,” said the mayor’s sister, Jill, welcoming to the podium “my brother, best friend and the best uncle I could imagine for my son [Kane].”
And young Kane nearly stole the show as he happily ran around the stage while the mayor began his remarks.
“We’ve got a lot done in the last eight years,” Duncan said, noting a few infrastructure examples that made him proud, including revitalization of local buildings, arenas, roads and “a lot of our facilities.”
The same period has seen $180-million in new development and growth in North Dundas, the mayor said to applause, also expressing pride in the township’s strong retail sector.
The tone of respect between staff and council members was third highlight for Duncan, “both here and at the county level of SD&G,” he said. “We didn’t always agree, but we’re not supposed to. That’s not why you have five council members. When we debated, we did it bluntly, we did it honestly, we had a good vigorous debate. But when it was done, it was done….”
“That approach really helped us. We improved customer service and we tried out other ideas.”
“I tell you not to look at the glass half full in North Dundas,” he later advised the audience. “Look at it 80 percent full because that’s what it is.”
“At the end of the day, I’m grateful to each and every one of you for the support you’ve given me. Thank you for taking a chance on an 18-year-old kid for councillor, and then a 22-year-old mayor, and then a 25-year-old warden. I love my job everyday, and the chances I’ve been given. Not too many people have had the chances I’ve had, to meet the people I’ve met, to influence the decisions we’ve made, and to make a difference in my community that I’ve called home and has supported me in so many ways.”
Duncan also expressed “full confidence” in the incoming council led by Mayor-elect Tony Fraser.
“It’s been a wonderful ride. Thank you very, very much for everything,” he concluded.
JED Express, Joy to Share and the North Dundas Chamber of Commerce sponsored the free breakfast preceding the ceremonies.