Described by her colleagues as a trailblazer and champion for military families, Halifax & Region MFRC Executive Director (ED) Colleen Calvert will be retiring on Dec.15 after almost 20 years with the MFRC.
A trailblazer in more ways than one, before she embarked on her career as an ED, Calvert served in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as one of the first women airframe technicians. She served for 21 years at various bases and eventually retired at the rank of Master Warrant Officer.
Calvert has been with the MFRC since 1992, when she joined the Board of Directors for the Shearwater MFRC. She was later hired by the MFRC in 1996 and eventually became the Executive Director for the Halifax MFRC.
Since the Halifax MFRCs is one of the oldest in the country, Calvert had her work cut out for her to bring the chain of command on board with the concept of an MFRC.
“Initially she was a trailblazer for sure in establishing the relationship between the chain of command and us as this outside agency who is going to work with the chain of command but not report to them,” said Shelley Hopkins, Site Manger/Director of the Shearwater Children’s Centre and has worked with Calvert for over a decade.
Calvert also made great strides in earning the trust of military families with the MFRC, as the MFRC was a new institution for many families.
“She worked very diligently in the last 17 years to build that confidence in the military family community that the MFRC is a safe, confidential place to go,” stated Myrna Stewart, program co-ordinator/site manager, Halifax & Region MFRC and who has also known Calvert for more than a decade.
One of Calvert’s most notable accomplishments during her career as ED was amalgamating the Debert, Cape Breton, Halifax and Shearwater MFRCs to create the Halifax & Region MFRC in 2006. This was a significant undertaking that required Calvert to merge multiple sets of staff, board of directors and consider the diversity of the military families, since the multiple MFRC served the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Royal Canadian Navy, and the Canadian Army.
Today the Halifax & Region MFRC serves all three elements of the Canadian Armed Forces.
“She’s not only working with the chain of command but the three cultures of the chain of command,” noted Hopkins.
Being in-charge of such a large organization, with more than 100 employees and multidisciplinary teams, means that every day at the job looks different for Calvert.
“Her day-to-day looks different every day. It could be interaction with the chain of command it could be establishing partnerships,” observed Hopkins.
Throughout her years as ED, the MFRC has also been the site of many pilot projects issued by Military Family Services (MFS), including the current Veterans Family Program. Additionally, under the directive of MFS, Calvert successfully embarked on the project of accrediting the MFRC. In 2015, the Halifax & Region MFRC was accredited by the Canadian Accreditation Council.
Over the years, she’s also welcomed several dignitaries, from prime ministers to ombudsmans, to the MFRC. But the jewel in her crown came in 2014 when she welcomed Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.
“I distinctly remember Colleen coming to Myrna and I and saying ‘wow we just hosted royalty. Where do we go from here’. So, she definitely saw it a very much as a feather in her cap,” stated Hopkins.
The prince spent the day touring the MFRC and mingling with military families and MFRC staff.
But perhaps the most significant outcome of that day, for Calvert, was the international coverage of the event that brought military families and military family support to focus.
“In working with Colleen for as long as I have, that’s certainly been her number one thing. She will talk about [that] she wants to build that awareness that the MFRC exists. She definitely has a passion for that,” noted Stewart.
Calvert has had the opportunity to share this passion with audiences on an international and national level, including a NATO symposium in Belgium. She was also appointed by the Minister of National Defence to the CF Ombudsman’s Advisory Committee, on which she served for five years.
Her love for military families has not gone unnoticed. She’s been awarded multiple recognitions, and in 2015 she was invested as a Dame in the Order of St George.
Calvert’s last day is Dec. 15 and the staff of the MFRC and military officials across Halifax will be gathering together to recognize this hero for military families.
Before leaving the work she loves for good, Calvert released the following statement expressing her thoughts and gratitude, “I would like to be remembered for my passion. I care deeply, and I am extremely proud of the work of the MFRC. Taking the MFRC from its infancy as an organization and helping to create military family support services have been very gratifying.
“My proudest accomplishment was amalgamating the Debert, Cape Breton, Halifax and Shearwater MFRCs creating the H&R MFRC. I am also very proud of playing a role in changing the mindsets and attitudes of the CF and making the MFRC into an operational essential support system for the CF. I am pleased to have played a role in changing perceptions and creating a very highly regarded, effective and trusted service for military members and their families.
“Further, I am honoured to have had the incredible opportunity to work with so many amazing leaders, Base and Wing Commanders and to have had the chance to host Prime Ministers, Senators, and Royalty. I am blessed to have worked with so many dynamic, talented, creative, dedicated staff and volunteers. With such a devoted group, I am confident the H&R MFRC will continue to lead the way in family support and further their reputation as one of the best MFRCs in Canada.
“I wish to thank everyone for all of your support and confidence throughout my career in the military and here at the MFRC.
“Military families are “the strength behind the uniform ” and I will miss you all!”