Kathy Alexander didn’t know what to expect when she called her 88-year-old grandmother to tell her she was entering politics.
“Nana, it’s Kathy… I want you to know I’m putting my name in to be the NDP candidate for Sarnia-Lambton,” Alexander recounted, seeking the approval of one of the most important women in her life.
Irma Lako, who had escaped Hungary at 18, gave birth to Alexander’s father, Andrew Pasztor, in a refugee camp in France, where they lived until emigrating to Hamilton, Ont.
Lako lost both of her husbands and two sons (Alexander’s father died eight years ago) but it’s her resilience Alexander admires most.
“She’s experienced so much loss yet she has the biggest heart,” Alexander said, seated at the dining room table in her Sarnia home, with dogs Koko and Rygar resting at her feet.
Alexander’s dive into politics isn’t a surprise to those close to the 42-year-old mom of two. She points to her former high school history teacher in Hamilton — where she was born and raised — Mr. Gillis, who sparked an interest in social issues and student government. And to her late father, with whom she’d have lively and engaging debates on their drives home from the University of Windsor.
Alexander earned a BA in Family and Social Relations (and met her husband, Tony Alexander) in Windsor before moving to Toronto for the Assaulted Women’s and Children’s Councillor Advocate Program at George Brown College. That led to a six-year career at the Toronto Child Abuse Centre, where she became a manager at just 25.
“We loved it in Toronto, but started thinking about settling down and having kids, so we made the decision to move to Sarnia.”
Tony, born and raised here, got a teaching job at SCITS while Kathy waitressed at John’s Restaurant before landing the executive director position at Big Sisters of Sarnia-Lambton.
She led the agency for six years before taking the helm at the Bluewater Health Foundation in 2011.
“I feel very honoured that I’ve had the opportunity to lead organizations that make a difference,” she said, noting she never lost that political drive.
“The inkling has always been there; it’s one of those things that never goes away.”
She announced her bid to seek the local NDP nomination in February and secured it on April 17.
“It’s pretty special to hear the messages of support,” said Alexander. “I’m really blown away. We have volunteers saying, ‘How can I help? How can I get involved?’”
But her most valued cheerleaders are the seven and 11-year-old she tucks into bed every night.
“I really believe in teaching my girls they can do anything — regardless of their gender,” she said, noting women comprise more than half of her party’s candidates this election.
As for her Nana’s reaction on that phone call, Alexander was pleasantly surprised.
“I’m so proud of you,” Lako told her granddaughter in her Hungarian accent.
“I always vote NDP. I know Andrea Horwath!” (Who just happens to be Lako’s MPP in Hamilton Centre).
“I am going to call her office,” she said with pride. “And tell them you are my granddaughter.”
Occupation: Executive director, Bluewater Health Foundation
Previous elections: None
Marital status: Married
Most important issue: Health care, including mental health