Former Mayor Jackie Holzman is Busy as Ever

Whatever became of former Ottawa mayor Jaquelin (“Jackie”) Holzman? I recently had tea with her to find out. She was mayor from 1991 to 1997, and before that, a member of City Council beginning in 1982. Holzman still has a finger in politics, having supported Mark Sutcliffe’s mayoral campaign, but politics is less of an area of activity. She has now been focusing on another series of areas, less on politics. Holzman’s interests focus on social causes. She has been involved in charitable organizations and the governance of hospitals through the years, and these interests persist.

We began our chit-chat with her area of concern about advance-care planning, leading to her part in the founding of Compassionate Ottawa, an organization that promotes end-of-life planning and palliative care.  It encourages “difficult conversations and dealing with grief.” Holzman commented, “There is a Charley Brown cartoon in which he is told, ‘You know, someday all of us are going to die.’  ‘Yes,’ replies Charley Brown, ‘but every other day, we are going to live.’  That is why it is important to plan for the rest of our lives,” she said.

According to her, it is essential to plan how we want our later years to be, not leaving such things for others to act without a clear understanding of our wishes. “It is not fair to leave this kind of decision to family and children without your guidance.” And she says to put it in writing to have some input over how and where you will live.

In their case, Jackie and her husband, John Rutherford, live in Unitarian House, where she serves on the board. The nonprofit seniors’ residence has two sections, one of which is apartments for independent living and the other being a retirement section with all meals provided along with a variety of other services, including nursing. If independent living is no longer possible for the couple, they can transfer to the other section.

Over the years, disability has been an area of interest. Immediately prior to being elected as mayor, Holtzman worked for the Social Planning Council, addressing housing and transportation for people with special needs. Before that, she was a player in the Jewish community, taking part in the establishment of Tamir, a residential care program for mentally deficient adults. Also, in the Jewish community, she took part in establishing Jewish Family Services. In addition, she helped initiate Salus, a residential rehabilitation program for people with mental illness.

Holtzman faced a major personal health crisis—a diagnosis of breast cancer. She took this personal misfortune as something to promote good, holding a press conference to encourage women to get mammograms.  She co-authored the book Death Can Wait: Stories of Cancer Survivors. In 2017, she chaired the Canadian Cancer Action Network Recruitment Committee.

What else has she been up to? In 2022 she received the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers from the Governor General. The award specifically mentioned her work with Compassionate Ottawa, the Royal Ottawa Hospital, the Rehabilitation Institute of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. In 2020 Ottawa honoured her by renaming the renovated pedestrian bridge over Highway 17 connecting Harmer Avenue North and Harmer Avenue South for her. But that is not all. She also was a board member of the National Capital Commission and Algonquin College and chaired the Ottawa Congress Centre. She is also a member of Kiwanis.

We turned back to her time as mayor. What was her proudest achievement? She saw the dearth of people living in the downtown as a concern. To change that, Ottawa eliminated development charges in the area from Queen Street to the river. That did it.

She reflected on when Bob Rae was premier, with his Rae Day cuts. “It led to the layoff of dozens of Ottawa staff. It also cut seats in medical schools. We know now what that meant. It was a very trying time.”

Jackie Holzman holds a contrarian view of the LRT. “Snow on the tracks? Ice on the wires? Who would have thought that?” she remarked sarcastically. Her preference would be to use buses on more special reserved routes. Holzman is all with Doug Ford’s warning of no money for phase three of the LRT till the kinks of the other two phases are ironed out.

Courtesy of the University of Ottawa, she is Dr. Jacquelin Holzman, holding a high school diploma. When someone remarked that the degree was not earned, she replied that she had indeed earned it with 70 years of work. No argument there.

A woman who is a fellow resident of Unitarian House described her as “a human dynamo. With all her accomplishments, she is very down to earth. She even volunteers to run the front desk at Unitarian House.”

Photo: Rueul S. Amadur