Bob Stead: Mayor, Activist, Partner, Friend
Posted by Wayves volunteer 30/01/2014
By Bruce E. Walker
Robert Arthur (Bob) Stead passed away peacefully at his home in Wolfville on January 18, 2014. At his passing, Bob was surrounded by his loving family and Danny Chandler, his spouse of seventeen years. He leaves behind many friends and colleagues to mourn his passing after living a life of full of achievement and spectacular accomplishment. Bob Stead was deeply committed to a life of community service.
Bob led a full, happy and productive life. In brief, Bob was born in Fortune, Prince Edward Island, and grew up on Prince Edward Island. He had a long and successful career as an educator following his own graduation from Prince of Wales College in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. After teaching for six years on Prince Edward Island, Bob returned to Acadia University to the position of Assistant Registrar and Director of Admissions at Acadia University. He served in this position at Acadia University for twenty-seven years. During this time, Bob is said to have epitomized the ‘personal touch’ that is an Acadia trademark and was exceptionally well-liked and well-respected by colleagues and students alike. Before his retirement from Acadia University, Bob began a second career in municipal politics by being elected to Wolfville Town Council. This career in municipal politics would take up another twenty-four years. Bob was first elected Mayor of Wolfville in 1997, and served in this capacity for the next fifteen consecutive years.
During his time as Mayor, Bob led the Town of Wolfville through a number of legislative firsts, setting the stage for other municipalities within Nova Scotia and across Canada to follow suite. Notable examples are by-laws making all indoor public places smoke-free (2001) and legislation prohibiting smoking in cars carrying children (2008). Bob was also passionate about the development and maintenance of outdoor public spaces. He was instrumental in the creation of the Wolfville Watershed Nature Preserve and thrilled to see the first piece of outdoor art unveiled at the Wolfville Waterfront Park in September of 2013. With Bob’s many successes and his depth of experience at the local level, it was inevitable that he would be encouraged to participate in broader forums for municipal governance. He served on the executive of the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities and on the executive of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Bob was a dedicated and caring leader known for his deep and abiding commitment to community service. Bob’s accomplishments have earned him considerable recognition and a number of awards, the most recent of which is UNSM’s Ken Simpson Memorial Award for outstanding leadership in municipal governance (2013).
Bob could not sit idle after his retirement from municipal government in 2012 and so redirected his time and considerable abilities to L’Arche Homefires Society by serving as Co-Chair of their “Building Our Dream” Capital Campaign to provide funding for their expanded facilities.
Personally, my first meeting Bob Stead occurred in late August, 1977. This was just a couple of weeks after I had first met my late spouse, Lloyd Simmons, and had begun a relationship with him of thirty years. Lloyd and I met in Toronto and so when he asked me to come to Prince Edward Island with him I agreed right away. After we spent a few days together in Summerside, he asked if I would like to drive with him to Wolfville and meet his good friend and distant cousin, Bob Stead. I agreed. Bob and I became friends and have been so ever since. As well as both being homosexual, I discovered over time that as well as being friends and educators (Lloyd was a high-school teacher), both Bob and Lloyd were like-minded collaborators in trying to advance equality for lesbian and gay people. In 1977, both Bob and Lloyd, as well as a great many others, had to be so very careful. Being found out could mean the immediate loss of employment and unwelcome notoriety. Nevertheless, they taught me to lead and educate with them by example. This turned out to be a very effective method to change societal understanding and influence political will over the years.
Bob and Lloyd communicated with each other often over the years, both before I met them and afterward. They were early collaborators in improving the situation of their students in general, and lesbian and gay students in particular. Bob’s creative use of Acadia University’s admission requirements meant a significant number of people had the opportunity to study at Acadia University who would not have otherwise had a chance of earning a university degree. This certainly included lesbian and gay students. I am one of those people. I am so very grateful that the opportunity Bob and Lloyd gave me to begin studies at Acadia University led ultimately to a Bachelor of Laws Degree from Queen’s University in Ontario and my career as a lawyer in Toronto. In fact, when I decided to apply to Queen’s University, one of the requirements was to have a letter submitted on my behalf by one of my professors at Acadia University. Just a mention of this to Bob led to a suggestion and the name of a professor to provide the letter. Again, I am very grateful to both Bob and my professor for this.
Bob was a humble man. He preferred to do things quietly rather than with great fanfare. Bob brought these qualities to his support of lesbian and gay people. He was always interested in community building. There were numerous gatherings at Bob’s house often more than one per week. A significant number of these were with gay and lesbian people. Dinners, barbeques, potluck socials and individual visits were Bob’s style. He also supported and attended Over-thirties potlucks in the 1980s and later. There was also a local group of gay men, who called themselves the “Valley Girls” who met often for potluck socials over the years. He also quietly had many, many gay and lesbian friends with whom he kept in touch. Bob always encouraged people with his quiet wisdom. Bob was also keenly interested in the progress of the struggle for lesbian and gay equality in Canada. He kept up to date with the ups and downs through his many connections and friends.
Bob also used his position to encourage lesbian and gay people to excel. Much of what he has done will remain untold, but I do know that he helped organize a Lesbian and Gay Acadia University Alumni meeting in 1996. I know this because he called Lloyd and me and asked if we believed in free speech. Of course we said yes. Then Bob invited me to give a free speech at this event and both of us to fly in from Toronto at our own expense. We did this and enjoyed the experience very much.
Bob also used his position to ensure that the Rainbow Flag was flown from the flagpole at Wolfville Waterfront Park. The first of these was on May 17, 2012, during the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. He also facilitated the flying of the Rainbow Flag to commemorate Lesbian and Gay Pride later the same year.
I know from personal experience that Bob treasured his seventeen-year relationship with his long-time companion, Danny Chandler, most of all his accomplishments. Bob and Danny became husbands of each other when they married at a quiet ceremony in their warm and happy home on November 22, 2013.
Donations in memory of Bob Stead may be made to the L’Arche Homefires “Building Our Dream” Campaign, 10 Gaspereau Avenue, Wolfville, NS, B4P 2C2.
Editor's Note and Apology: When posting this article on Facebook, I credited Bob Stead as being the first openly gay man to win elected office in Nova Scotia. Tuma Young, a lawyer and educator, alerted Wayves to the mistake. Mr. Young's comment read, "Wonderful tribute however there were openly gay men and lesbians in the Mi'kmaq community that ran for office and were elected as chiefs and council. Roy Gould was one who became chief in the early 1970's in Membertou and was on council for many years."
On behalf of Wayves and myself, I extend my apologies to Mr. Gould and to the Two-Spirit and/or LGBT identifying people who ran for office and served their communities. My ignorance of these histories are a sad result of the heterosexist and colonial structures that keep our communities in isolation and ignorance of the cultures and contributions of non-white LGBTQ Nova Scotians. My thanks to Mr. Young for the opportunity to experience a more complete rendering of Nova Scotia's queer histories and communities. Again, my apologies and thanks for the chance to learn! - Hugo Dann, Wayves volunteer.