Sherry Spicer has fond memories of living in Dartmouth as a little girl. She recalls going to the movie theatre on Portland Street in the late 1960s, when a quarter was enough to buy admission and a small bag of popcorn.
“Portland Street was hopping back then! I spent a lot of time there as a child, going to the cinema and the five and ten store, before it became Woolworth’s,” says Spicer.
Spicer says she spent most of her school years in Dartmouth, but every possible moment of free time was spent on the Amherst shore with her grandparents. These trips to the country became even more special when her mother passed away. Spicer was only 14 years old, and as the second eldest child of 6, she had to take on many of the household responsibilities while her father worked as a school principal.
“I had to grow up fast, maybe too fast,” says Spicer. “I moved away to university at age 16 and was married at age 18.”
These experiences may have made Spicer wiser beyond her years. Soon after she landed her first full-time job at Maritime Life as an underwriter, she was promoted to supervisor at age 25. Spicer’s leadership skills also caught the attention of higher-ups, and she was hand-picked for a special task force.
“We would go into each of the company’s departments and time every possible job function with a stopwatch! it was an intimidating job, but I learned that there are always ways to improve things.”
Spicer grew weary of the corporate scene and took her first job in sales promoting artisans in the Atlantic region. That role led to a position as managing director for Bill Frank and the Edwards family. Spicer was sent to Dallas, Texas for training in how to buy and sell businesses.
“University could never have taught me what I learned at the business brokerage company. I was in charge! I was a young whipper snapper, in charge of 8 to 10 agents and we were selling all kinds of small to medium-sized enterprises.”
One day, a listing for a west-end Halifax clothing business landed on Spicer’s desk. It was a high-end women’s boutique on Bayer’s Road. Even though Spicer had no experience in running a business, she felt compelled to jump at the opportunity.
“We had so much fun! I didn’t get rich, but I always had enough to pay my staff and I did little things to show them that I appreciated them. I have remained good friends with the women I worked with back then, in fact, we went to brunch last Sunday.”
When the retail landscape began to change in the late 80s, Spicer closed the business to pursue a new challenge – an executive position at Dartmouth Cable, under the leadership of Charles Keating. Spicer says it was one of the most exciting and rewarding periods of her career.
“Keating was one of the best bosses I ever had, without question. He was a pioneer in cable TV. He was a gentleman and a good person. When he raised his voice, you got the message, but it didn’t happen very often.”
Over the years, Spicer had the opportunity to work alongside many of Nova Scotia’s most prominent entrepreneurs including the late Ron Joyce, co-founder of Tim Hortons. She says career was the centre of her life until she became pregnant with her son, Kyle. His birth was a baffling surprise to everyone, including her doctor. Spicer had undergone surgery that should have eliminated any chance of having children, after a life-threatening medical emergency.
“Kyle was a miracle baby. To this day, they have no idea how the miracle happened. Motherhood has been very good for me.”
Ever since Kyle was born in 1992, Spicer has balanced motherhood and career. When they moved back to downtown Dartmouth in the mid 2000s, Spicer worked as Vice President of King’s Wharf, while volunteering for the Alderney Landing board. She says it’s been rewarding to see the community thriving again.
At age 67, Spicer has cut back her work hours, but she has no plans to retire. She currently handles leasing and administration duties at Lotus Point and Workspace Dartmouth.
“I am so grateful to my boss and friend Dean Hartman, for this opportunity. I never want to stop keeping up with relationships and working with people. You learn from them all.”
Story by Crystal Garrett
Portrait by James MacLean