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Episode 83: Hazel McCallion

Age is just a number! 98-year-old Chief Elder Officer Hazel McCallion shares life lessons and leadership in this special episode. 

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap podcast, the senior living podcast with Josh and Lucas. We’re in Santa Barbara, California at the SLIF Conference, which is short for Senior Living Innovation Forum and Josh, we are in a building full of some of the industry disruptors and most interesting people and we have one of them on our show today. We would love to welcome Hazel McCallion of Revera. She is the CEO, Chief Elder Officer at Revera in Canada. Welcome. 

Hazel: Thank you. Great to be here. 

Lucas: Absolutely. We are so excited that you’re here and we’re going to get to hear your story because you have accomplished a tremendous amount in your life, and we’d love to get more information about that. So tell us about your background and tell us why that has all lead into your passions today.

Hazel: I was born on the Gaspé coast of the province of Quebec it’s on the east coast of Canada in 1921. My dad was a fish processor, that was his business. My mother was a nurse, she graduated from the Montreal General Hospital. At the age of fourteen, I had to leave my hometown because the educational system only went to grade nine. I moved away with my sister because I was the baby of a family of five. She was a school teacher, so I went away to St. Johns, Quebec with her to take grade ten. And then for grade eleven, which was my last year of education, was in Quebec City and I went to Montreal, took a business course and went to work immediately. I never had the opportunity to attend college or university because being a depression kid, that wasn’t possible. So I had to make it on my own. I worked in the private sector for some thirty years. First of all, as office manager of an American company MW Kellogg, it was known as Canadian Kellogg, built oil refineries and chemical plants. In 1942, we were awarded a contract to build the world’s first synthetic rubber plant in Sarnia, Ontario. So the general manager invited me to go to Toronto to assist him in setting up an office to build the plant. So I remained with that company for twenty years, we built oil refineries and chemical plants across Canada, and I decided to leave the job and help my husband in the printing business. After a few years of being very active in the community, I became mayor of a small town called Streetsville and then the province amalgamated all the municipalities in our area into a city called Mississauga. I ran for mayor in 1978 as Mayor of Massasauga and remained as mayor there until 2014.

Josh:  Wow.

Hazel: I left that left that position and started being involved in many things. That’s when Revera engaged me to be their CEO. I sit on four boards, I’m advisor, I’m Chancellor of one of our major colleges, I advise the Vice President of the University of Toronto, I’m involved in the hospital. I’m just involved. I just keep going, going, going.

Josh: I love that.  That’s so fascinating. So we just heard, I don’t know eighty-something years of history in like five minutes. So there was a lot of things that we could dive in deeper on there. 

Hazel: 98 years. 

Josh: 98 years, yes. So tell me I’m fascinated. You said something about you never had the opportunity to go to college because of the depression and things like that. You finished up through 10th?


Hazel: High School in Quebec. The Province Quebec was grade 11.

Josh: And then you went on and you became a lot of things. Not only were you working in the private sector, you were mayor, Chancellor of a college? 

Hazel: Yes college, and advisor to the University of Toronto Mississauga . 

Josh: So obviously you faced probably I’m assuming a lot of adversity, and a lot of things that you would have to overcome because you didn’t have just the normal opportunity. So can you talk us through just some of those challenges that you may have uniquely faced, and how when you were confronted with some of those unique challenges that you can think back to, how you overcame those.

Josh: Well, I think you have to appreciate that you have to listen, you have to be interested, you have to be curious. I was a very curious kid. I wanted to know how everything operated. And there’s a lot of people that help you along the way. Like when I was secretary to the general manager of Canadian Kellogg. When he wanted to set up an office in Toronto he asked if I would go with him to set up that office. So it’s people that encourage you and see that you have a desire to be a success. My mother instilled in me that you’ve gotta give the best at whatever you do because the best will come back to you in some way or other. And so I never felt that I was deprived of education. I just thought that I had to take advantage of every opportunity that existed, and working hard, it was very essential. You know, I became the first president of a number- first female president- of a number of organizations and in 1968, I became mayor of a small town in the country of Canada. I think there was maybe a half a dozen female mayors. You can learn a lot from other people, consulting with people and listening carefully.  As a kid from the Gaspé coast going into the big city, I felt that I had to watch what went on for me to know to do the right thing. 

Josh: Sure. So very fascinating, I love that. So, tell us a little bit- I’d be interested to know your take on… I don’t know if you were able to hear him, we just got to hear Bob Kramer speak who’s just an awesome amount of knowledge in our industry and I think very much a visionary. But I was very curious- he was talking about how our industry, senior living industry, has traditionally kind of viewed and how society has viewed retirement versus what may be the future and how It is redefining that. And I think a couple of the key terms that he used to describe what society’s view on on the idea of retirement is and what has been declination or a decline, but the future is more about engagement and enrichment and opportunity. I want to know two things: one, first of all, you don’t seem like you have at all accepted the reality of the view of retirement, but you seem to have embraced way ahead of the times the idea of engagement, enrichment and constant growth. So, what’s what’s your take on that?

Hazel: Well, that is living a life of purpose. In other words, you have to have a purpose for being on this Earth and implementing your purpose for life. I never say I retired from the business world, I changed from the business world to the public service, and then I changed from public service to a wider service because I’m on four boards. I’m on the Toronto International Airport board running Canada’s largest airport, and I’m on three other boards; one of a technology company, another Greensaver converting or convincing people to save hydro by being green. So there’s so many opportunities out there. So I never look at it as I’ve retired. When people say how are you enjoying your retirement, I say I’m still enjoying life. 

Josh: Right. I love that. Tell us a little bit of what what is your what is an average day like? What are you spending the majority of your time doing now?

Hazel: I get up very early in the morning at 5:30 and I have a lovely German Shepherd called Missy that I have to exercise. I look at my emails, and check on them is what it’s all about and phone calls. And then everyday I have something on my agenda. There’s hardly a day that goes by. Having been mayor of a municipality for thirty-six years, you’re still well known in all the organizations and I get a ton of invitations still to go to the functions. So I can be busy every day and busy most of the time both day and evening if I want to be. Well now. not being mayor anymore, I pick and choose which ones I would like to depending on the value of the contact I can make. And I do my own house work. I have a large property. I do all my gardening and I have a swimming pool that I have to look after. I don’t have anybody come. The only contractor that comes to my house is to cut the grass. I cut that for years, I had a sit-on mower that I used to run around. 

Lucas: I’m not surprised, not at all.

Hazel: But then a friend, a young great lad said oh no, you shouldn’t be cutting your  lawn. I didn’t like the edging, but I did like running around. 

Josh: Yeah, with the mower. So, what is primarily the role of the CEO?

Hazel: Well it’s an interesting role, I really didn’t know what they asked me to be, to work for them. It was later on that Trish actually chose the name of CEO, the Chief Elder Officer. And I actually get a kick out of it because they’ll say what are you doing now? And I’ll say I’m CEO of Revera, and then I tell them its Chief Elder Officer, they think it’s finance administration. 

So I visit their homes, 35 of their homes in Ontario so far and also their homes in British Columbia, both assisted living, retirement living, and long-term care. I meet the staff when I go there, first of all, and chat with the staff as to encourage them about the great service that they are providing the people that need assistance at this point. Then I have a round table with people chosen from the residents to meet with them and the round table is very interesting. I get the people to talk about what did you do before you chose a retirement home? And people love to talk about what they did. Some you have to shorten them. They like to go on and on. And they I say to them now I want you to be very honest; when did you move in, how long have you been here, and what was your experience when you first moved in? Is there any way that from what you experienced, do you have you any suggestions? It’s not a criticism. I want you to be honest. This  can be very helpful by telling me what could be improved. And then we talk about the services and somebody takes notes of my discussion with the round table and that report those in the head office. Any suggestions on how to improve the service and what has been your experience with staff. 

I have to tell you from my experience at Revera I have never had one complaint about staff, but I’ve had a complaint about a shortage of staff.  And I deal with that because I’d say well, you know when I was mayor, I used to get calls about people not showing up when they called about a parking problem in the area. And I would say to the person that called, madam mayor we called your parking patrol and they didn’t come for a day or two. I’d say, unfortunately we don’t have parking control officers sitting around waiting for a call, we can’t afford it. You can’t afford the taxes if we did, so therefore you have to be patient and wait, and I said that’s the same with staff in these places. The staff is on a certain program, but if something exceptional happens they don’t have staff waiting for that exceptional situation, so therefore you as the participants have to maybe wait a little longer for service. And realize that the staff has a team approach to the situation. Because I used my experience as mayor that you can’t have people waiting around for calls. You have a certain staffing program and therefore you have to deal with the issues faced. 

Lucas: I’m convinced. You just convinced me, I am fine now. I’ll just wait. 

Josh: I love it. Well, it’s obvious that your wealth of history, your life experiences has prepared you uniquely for what purpose you’re serving right now in that CEO role. 

Hazel: Well, I say to them you volunteered when you were out in the community because our country was built on volunteers. You can still volunteer when you’re in a retirement home. There are people that need a little help. I get examples. And don’t lose your independence, I say to them, do everything you can for yourself. Even though you’re paying for it, because losing your independence is one of the greatest detriments to a person’s life. You want to remain independent. And I give examples of fixing things around the house. I don’t want to call my son, so I try and I work at it until I can fix it myself.  And if I can’t then he’ll come over and do it. Independence is extremely important.

Lucas: I’d love to hear your thoughts. We talk about intergenerational a lot on our program, the collaboration between different ages and what that looks like for the future of senior housing and senior living. What are your thoughts on that topic?

Hazel: Oh, I think it’s extremely important. It’s one thing that I really emphasized but Revra’s very good at it and gauging the community, especially high school students and others to come in. There’s one home where a high school is right across the road from one of the Revera retirement homes and long-term care. And the students will come over and help serve the meals, especially for people that might have trouble serving themselves. And in one of our city’s long-term care homes, the students go in at noon of a school close by to help feed those that need help to be fed. And secondly, people who are in retirement homes love to be, still want to enjoy being out in the community. So you’ve got to bring the community into the home to some degree. Sure, Revera takes some out into the community, but it’s so important that people come in to make presentations at Christmas time and different times like a singing group from the community.  And especially young people. Seniors want to feel there with young people. It makes them feel good. They feel that they are still enjoying the atmosphere of young people. It’s very, very important. 

Lucas: You seem like a person that is also been heavily involved in mentorship. There are a lot of young people actually getting into the business of senior living because of the reward, and the  purpose and the mission behind working with older adults. It’s very fulfilling work. 

Hazel: Revera has a program that I witnessed, in which this lady arranges for students to come and do a video of working with the seniors in the home. And we saw the video as a result of the interview that the students are learning to be in the communication world and at the same time it is absolutely amazing to hear the students say what they’ve learned from working with a senior. How they have been inspired and what a record. And they’re really excited about it. And the seniors of course are all excited, they’re called stars. They pick about 10 to 12 stars and the students interview them. People love to talk about what they did. 

The other thing that I think we have to do is just because people have left the things that they did in the community, like there is one person who said that she missed being a choir director in her church, and I said to her well why don’t you form a choir in the home? I think we have to try to, it’s not easy, but to involve the type of work they did if it’s possible, into the into the program in the home if you can. So I said to her, set up a choir, have a sing song every once in a while and be the leader.

Josh: I love that. So, Lucas and I have talked about this a lot and you’re living it out. And that is all of your life experiences have prepared you for the time and place that you have to serve right now and to live out that purpose. I love that you have lived that out. So a couple things a lot of our audience is young leaders. I think Lucas and I would still like to think of ourselves as young but I think with the great opportunity our space has for growth and change, I think a lot of people are asking what’s next. What do we do? Could you give our young listeners some good life takeaways, good life advice that you’ve lived by and good leadership advice for the challenges that they’re going to face in adapting to the next generation.

Hazel: Well I think young people today have to be curious as I say about the future. They have to be prepared to be committed to whatever they undertake. I think the business world especially is looking for young people that are committed. Secondly, they have to be able to enjoy communication. I’m really concerned with technology interfering with good communication, actual communication. And that I think can have a very serious… So young people should not let that phone control their life and some just can’t get off the phone. And, you know, you find family- I ran across an experience where a father said if his daughter is upstairs in her bedroom, instead of coming down and talking to her dad she texts him. That to me is a no-no. So the young people today have to have a purpose. They have to realize that they’re on this Earth for a reason, all kinds of opportunities exist for them. If they want to be alert to the opportunities, integrity is very important. And secondly they have to feel that maybe they can make a difference in the world. In the lives of people, in the organization of their community, in the organization of their country and they’ve got to really feel that there are unlimited opportunities for them out there.  It’s up to them and they should never fear the future because a lot of young people wonder. They should shape it.  

Josh: I love that. So we have to our listeners; curiosity, commitment, communication, finding your purpose, being ambitious towards that, shape the future and don’t be afraid of the future. Beautiful words from Hazel. We’re going to want our audience to connect with you and we hope that’s okay. 

Lucas: Absolutely well this has been just a wonderful conversation and at a beautiful location here in Santa Barbara, California, and I know that there are many people waiting back in the hallway that want to talk to you. And we’re so blessed to be able to share this with a bigger audience and so we will connect with you and your organization in our show notes so that people have a way to get in contact and learn more.  And if you have any questions, please follow us at, you can connect on all of our social pages. Send Josh and I a message on LinkedIn. You can DM us on Instagram and I will be happy to get back with you and thanks everyone for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap. 


Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, ERDMAN, TIS, and Sherpa.

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Episode 83: Hazel McCallion