By RENE J. ROY
– with files from Rosalyn Roy
Aneitha Sheaves taught Brian Button a few important things during his tenure on Port aux Basques Town Council. Button did not hesitate to share his memories about his time spent on council working with the former Mayor, who passed away on Friday, Jan. 8, at the age of 86.
“It wasn’t until I got elected with Mrs. Sheaves that I really found out how to conduct yourself to be a councillor, how to be a leader.”
Button was elected as Deputy Mayor under Mayor Sheaves in 1993. Aneitha had served as Deputy Mayor herself prior to that, but this was her first term serving as Mayor.
“When I got elected, Mrs. Sheaves, she called me and really set the tone right there, saying ‘Not to worry, and don’t be intimidated by the fact that you’re new and young,” recalls Button. “And from that I just felt I had someone there who I was going to learn from.”
Button held Mayor Sheaves in high regard and had a lot of respect for her. Of special note, says Button, is the way she conducted the Town meetings, and how she could make her point just by taking her time to explain it out.
“She didn’t come at you like a raging bull, she would just explain, ’This is what the reality of it is’, and I had a lot of respect for her because of that.”
Sheaves ran a tight ship as Mayor, recalls Button.
“One thing, if the Council meeting started at 7:00, you’d better be ready to start at 7:00,” recalls Button. “It wasn’t like we would all stroll in at any time. We all knew that at our Council meetings we would all be there early, ready to go and be prepared because she was starting on time.”
When issues got time consuming and the banter became repetitive, Sheaves would put a stop to it, but only if no progress was being made. If a longer discussion was warranted, then Council would remain in session as long as necessary to sort it out.
“She just controlled the (mayor’s) chair very well and elegantly.”
In fact, during one of their trips as part of their Council duties, Button mentioned to Sheaves how he suspected she was setting him up.
“You make it seem like we’re Good Cop, Bad Cop. I’ll just go in and get it all riled up and you just come in and calm the water. She laughed.”
It’s still easy to see Mayor Sheaves’ legacy around town. A prime example is the Bruce II Sports Centre. The original Bruce Arena was destroyed by an electrical fire on Sept. 24, 1995, and Sheaves was determined that any replacement facility would be a substantial upgrade that could serve the entire region.
The cost involved was a hard sell even among her own councilors, recalls Button, who credits her with the necessary foresight to convince others to come on board.
“It will be worth the subsidizing, I remember her saying in budgets,” shared Button. “She was quick to recognize that the overall percentage of our budget, from 10 to 12 to 15 percent of our budget, is always spent in recreation, and a community deserves to have a healthy community and have a recreational facility available to them.”
Button believes that determination may have been gained, at least in part, from her experience as an entrepreneur as Mrs. Sheaves helped build the family’s construction company.
“She ran a business. She knew how a community runs a lot like a business but can’t be run entirely like a business,” he observed.
The Bruce II is not the only tangible part of Mayor Sheaves’ legacy. Thanks to her time, effort and relentless determination, the Dr. Charles L. LeGrow Health Centre has its own dialysis unit.
“That was something that was a real pet peeve of hers, that people were having to travel from here and from the coastal communities,” says Button. While others around the region played a part, “She was the one that led the charge.”
As the first and only female Mayor, Sheaves offers a lasting impact on other women.
“She continued on to make sure that women’s rights were heard, and she was an advocate for that,” said Button. “She opened the door for a lot of women.”
He recalls attending a convention with Mrs. Sheaves and watched a young delegate from another town approach their table.
“She leaned over and she said to Mrs. Sheaves, ‘I wanted to come over and meet you’,” recounts Button. “‘It was because of you, and seeing you and what you said that got me running for council.’”
Button’s tenure as Deputy Mayor under Sheaves was a major factor in his realization that he, too, could run for Mayor. The mentorship she had offered meant he was well prepared.
“The reason I had that confidence is because I didn’t learn from books, I learned from her. It was Mrs. Sheaves that taught me about municipal politics, and politics in general, and really, how to conduct yourself.”
Button says he was proud to sit in the mayors chair after Mayor Sheaves, feeling like a student following the teacher.
“I wore the chain (of office) after her, and I know on election night, Mrs. Sheaves was there congratulating me and I thought, ‘My God, I had one of the greatest people who taught me how to get here.’”
After he served his first term as Mayor, Button recalls a phone call he got from Mrs. Sheaves. She was informing him of her intent to run for Council. Unsure if she intended to run for Mayor again, he immediately began to question whether he had let her down.
“Was she disappointed in the job I had done over the last four years?”
But Mrs. Sheaves had no intention of usurping his spot, she wanted to go back on the Town Council.
“She recognized that she couldn’t go out and be on the go as much as the Mayor was, but she still had a lot to offer.”
As it happened, Mrs. Sheaves ended up becoming the Deputy Mayor, meaning the two had switched roles. Sheaves and Button served eight years together on council.
Button says the Town was lucky to have had her for a number of reasons, explaining that her love for Port aux Basques was second to none, which was always reflected in the passion of her speeches or presentations.
Known by everyone, she was held in the highest regard by her municipal colleagues wherever she went, and Button recalls that even after she had left politics people always stopped him to check on her.
“How’s the former Mayor doing, how’s Mrs. Sheaves, what’s she up to?’ It was always how they greeted me, for a long time,” smiled Button at the recollection.
“Even after she passed, we got letters and calls from all over the province, saying how sorry they were to hear of her passing, and it just goes to show you, she was something else.”