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Aileen Carroll remembered as a pioneer and for her 'heart of gold'

Former MP, MPP and Barrie city councillor passes away at the age of 75

Aileen Carroll, a former Barrie city councillor, MPP and MP who was highly regarded for always putting Barrie first while also forging a path for women in politics, has died. 

Carroll died Sunday under the care of the stroke and rehabilitation unit at Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.

She was 75 years old. 

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman said Carroll blazed a trail for many other women to follow. 

"She was a pioneer in so many ways," Lehman told BarrieToday. "I believe she was the first and possibly only member from Barrie to serve in both provincial and federal cabinet, as well as on city council."

She remains Barrie’s first, and only, federal cabinet minister.

Lehman said a big part of Carroll's legacy will be seen for years to come. 

"Aileen inspired a lot of women to enter politics and to believe that you could be a woman and rise to the highest levels of public life," he said. "That accomplishment, of serving at all three levels and winning elections, is remarkable, but to then go on and asked by a premier and then a prime minister in the federal and provincial cabinets within a space of 10 years, I'm not sure we're going to see success like that again for a long time."

In 1995, Carroll was elected to Barrie city council. She was soon nominated as the Liberal candidate for Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford (later the riding of Barrie) and subsequently won three successive elections in 1997, 2000 and 2004, serving as the Member of Parliament for those ridings for nine years.

Carroll served as the parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs between 2001 and 2003, at which time then-prime minister Paul Martin appointed her as minister of International Co-operation, a post she held between 2003 and 2006.

Following the loss of the federal Liberal majority government in 2006, Carroll was nominated as the provincial Liberal candidate and subsequently served as Member of Provincial Parliament for Barrie between 2007 and 2011. From 2007 to 2010, Carroll served as minister of Culture and Minister Responsible for Seniors.

Lynda Murtha not only did communications for Carroll for almost 13 years, while she was both MP and MPP, but was also a close friend.

“I couldn’t be sadder today. My heart is very heavy for the loss of a very good friend,” Murtha said from her Cookstown-area home. “I don’t want to say I worked for her; I worked with her. She made you feel like that. There was great work that was done."

Murtha said Carroll wasn't one to trumpet her own accomplishments. 

“For a politician, she was rather quiet about that. She just wanted to do the right thing," Murtha said. "Her integrity was unquestionable. That says a lot about her.”

Murtha said no matter what Carroll’s portfolio was or what level of government it involved, she did her job with wisdom and integrity.

“She was the kind of politician who did it for all the right reasons," Murtha said. "She wanted to make changes and she did.”

Patrick Brown, who went head-to-head with Carroll federally twice in Barrie, said he was saddened to hear of her passing on Sunday. 

"She was devoted to the city of Barrie and was a role model for young women," Brown told BarrieToday. "She was probably the toughest opponent I ever faced. I thought the 2004 and 2006 elections were like nothing I'd ever gone through, and I've been through a lot of elections."

Brown, who's now the mayor of Brampton, said he will always remember those campaigns and going toe-to-toe with Carroll.

"It's unusual to say you admire and respect an adversary, but in her case, I did," he said. "I think we had some great debates over policy. I admire anyone who worked hard and anyone who had passion and I admired anyone who was smart. When you go into debates and you challenge each other, you respect someone who can give and take the verbal things that are involved.

"She was not someone to be underestimated," Brown added. "I also admired that she was well-connected in the city and had deep roots and a lot of respect across partisan lines. That says something, because people are normally in their camps. For her, there was a lot of admiration that went beyond traditional Liberal linkages."

Brown spoke about a period of about four years where they overlapped in Barrie, with him serving as MP and Carroll as MPP. He said they worked closely on stimulus funding, which resulted in the Allandale Waterfront GO Station and the Barrie South GO Station, as well as the downtown fire hall.

"If two fierce rivals could find commonality to work in the best interests of Barrie, it highlights the way it should be," he said. "I thought she was very professional and I thought she put Barrie first, and I respected that."

Carroll was born Margaret Aileen O’Leary in Halifax, N.S., on June 1, 1944.

As the first woman who graduated from St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Carroll earned a bachelor of arts (with honours), with a major in political science in 1965.

After a volunteer assignment in Algeria and working for the Canadian International Development Agency, she married D. Kevin Carroll on Nov. 11, 1968. They became parents to Joanna and Daniel.

As their children pursued their own academic and professional careers, Carroll turned her focus to a lifelong passion for politics and helping the community. 

Lehman said Carroll's work goes far beyond her public life in politics. 

"I'll remember her for her compassion for the community," he said. "She, very quietly sometimes, worked tirelessly for marginalized residents in Barrie and causes that were very close to her heart in the city."

Hailing from Nova Scotia, Lehman said Carroll brought a "Maritime belief in community" to all three levels of government in which she served. He also got to know Carroll outside of politics. 

"She was also hysterically funny," he said. "She had an incredible sense of humour, and that's not something, as a cabinet minister, that always shows to the public or on television.

"But I can tell you, in person she was just a delightful human being. We had a lot of laughs over the years."

Lehman worked for Carroll during her time as MP as volunteer.

"Long before I was involved with city council, I actually worked on one of her election campaigns," he said. "I did that because I believed in her as an individual. She was somebody who had a heart of gold, but was tough and driven. She believed very strongly in what was right. Those qualities served her incredibly well in a career that had a lot of twists and turns."

In 2011, Carroll resigned from public life and chose to focus on charitable activities, as well as her friends, family and grandchildren. She was also involved in organizations such as Hospice Simcoe, Habitat for Humanity, the David Busby Centre, and the Barrie Public Library.

In a profile story published by BarrieToday in November 2019, Carroll said she was proud of her time as a public servant. 

“I always accepted calls at my home or the constituency office. If a citizen had a point of view that needed to be discussed personally, I made myself available,” Carroll said. 

“My time in public life was extremely rewarding," she said. 

Carroll's death leaves a void in the community, the mayor said. 

"Everbody who knew her will miss her and miss the absence of her strength of conviction, which characterized her role in Barrie politics at all three levels," Lehman said.

The family plans to hold a memorial at a future date. Anyone wishing to make a donation in Carroll's memory can do so to the Barrie Food Bank or Care Canada.

— With files from Ian McInroy


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Raymond Bowe

About the Author: Raymond Bowe

Raymond is an award-winning journalist who has been reporting from Simcoe County since 2000
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