After a decade as the municipality’s top bureaucrat, Don Shropshire is retiring.
Chatham-Kent’s chief administrative officer will slip out the door before budget deliberations begin Feb. 1.
However, Shrophire said he does not have a set escape date set, just that by the end of January, he’s done.
“I’ve made that commitment to council,” he said of lingering to help with the transition to his replacement, announced by council in mid-November as Thomas Kelly, general manager of infrastructure and engineering. But it is not known if that process has been finalized at this point.
This year will mark the first time since 2011 that Shropshire won’t be present as CAO during the annual budget process
Shropshire arrived in Chatham-Kent in 2009, taking the position of general manager of community development. Prior to that, he spent 15 years as national director of disaster management for the Red Cross.
As he headed to Chatham-Kent, Shropshire said a relative who had spent time here questioned his decision.
“They said, ‘What do you want to live in Chatham-Kent for?’ I told them that if I did my job right, they were going to want to come back to Chatham-Kent,” he said.
Arriving in 2009, Shropshire set foot into a municipality at a low point.
“There were a lot of huge challenges – jobs, the economy – as we were just coming out of a recession,” he recalled. “The automotive industries had gone through a rough patch.”
And now, even with COVID’s strong grasp on things, Shropshire said many sectors in the economy in Chatham-Kent are quite strong.
“Probably 80 per cent of our businesses are experiencing their best years ever. Some of our smaller businesses, however, are not,” he said. “The biggest thing I hear about now is people can’t find enough of a labour force.”
The population went from a state of exodus when Shropshire first arrived, to influx.
“Chatham-Kent is now being rated as a desirable place to live. The reality is people are discovering what a great place this is to live, have a business and raise your families,” he said. “There are lots of opportunities, quality of life and affordability. There are a lot of things coming together.”
That isn’t to say there aren’t still areas of concern, especially in health. Chatham-Kent sports high rates for diabetes and heart disease, for example.
The past two years for Shropshire have been at times a challenge, but are right in his wheelhouse. The municipality has seen the impact of climate change through shoreline erosion along Lake Erie, COVID-19 and the gas leaks and explosion in Wheatley.
Shropshire said his time with the Red Cross was helpful dealing with local crises.
“Fifteen years as national director of disaster management for the Red Cross – I did nothing by try to prevent natural disasters,” he said. “But these have been big hurdles.”
Still, the issues have helped strengthen the resolve of people in Chatham-Kent.
“Over the past two years, the things that we have done to support one another, these are things other communities have been copying,” he said, pointing to the May 16th Miracle and The Gift efforts that began in Chatham-Kent and were emulated elsewhere. “The level of support here is phenomenal. People come together from all different sectors of the community.”
Shropshire said the way the people of this municipality rally around those in need is something he’ll never forget.
“Neighbours step up and help when there is a problem. People step up in a big way to help support each other. That’s a great testament to a community,” he said. “I see people; they care.”
As for the future, Shropshire said he’s at the mercy of his wife Robin and their adult children.
“I am going to go wherever my wife tells me to go. But we both really enjoy Chatham-Kent, and Robin will be working for the foreseeable future,” he said.
His wife runs the Essex County Library system, and her parents live in the Kingsville area.
Their grown children, however, live in Eastern Ontario and Shropshire, said one day he and Robin may move closer.
For now, they will remain in Chatham-Kent, enjoying its bounties.