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Public life hasn't always been easy for James

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Ms. Jones finally had enough of Prairie winters and convinced Mr. Jones it was time to head to a warmer climate. Victoria fit the bill perfectly. They settled into a big nine-bedroom house in a neighbourhood behind the legislature. They began taking in foster children -- lots of them.

In the time Ms. James lived with her grandparents she estimates there were about 40 foster children that took up residence in the house on Lewis Street. The Joneses often ended up with the hard-to-house kids -- usually groups of children apprehended from one home that had to be split up. Many had special needs and some had fetal alcohol syndrome.

Growing up in such an extended family taught Ms. James many things, she recognizes now.

"I guess one of the things my grandparents and in particular my grandmother instilled in all of us was that everyone had something to contribute to this world even if you didn't look the same as everyone else," Ms. James said.

"I don't ever remember having a conversation around our dinner table about having a responsibility to contribute to your community. It was just done in my world. Family was never just immediate family, it was whoever was in the house at the time.

"I remember going to school with some of the foster kids who would be teased mercilessly by some of the other kids. Sometimes we'd get chased home by kids. But I also remember going to the school principal to complain and I remember standing up to some of these kids when they did come after us."

If Ms. Jones helped provide her first granddaughter with some of the backbone she would need later in life, it's no surprise she gave that same granddaughter's mother, Mavis, much of her character and sense of purpose as well.

"My mother," Ms. James said, "was more of a radical than my grandmother. She was always fighting for causes. She was involved in the peace movement. . . . There's no doubt that mother's involvement in politics had a big impact on me, even early on in my life."

As a Grade 7 student at South Park Elementary, Ms. James led a student protest when the school insisted girls wear skirts even in cold weather. When she led the student body out on strike, the administration backed down, giving the student her first taste of political victory.

After high school, Ms. James and her boyfriend, Chris James, moved to Red Deer, Alta., where she landed a job helping children with disabilities. Eventually, they married and bought her grandparents' home on Lewis Street, taking over the group home.

She also had children of her own, a daughter, Alison, born in 1979, and a son, Evan, born two years later.

One of the foster children Ms. James took over responsibility for was a boy named Tim, who arrived years earlier when she lived in the house with her grandparents. When he turned 19, he decided to move out despite Ms. James's urgings to stay.

"Because of his fetal alcohol problems he was taken advantage of when he left the house," she said. "He ended up on the streets and they had to fish him out of the Inner Harbor a couple of times. He was stabbed in a park. Yet we continued to stay in touch. We were the ones the police would call any time Tim got into trouble. "He's now living in a hard-to-house home for street people. His disability cheque goes to pay the rent. I take him a bag of food every month because I won't give him money because I know he'll spend it on booze.

"I'm just not able to turn my back on people like Tim. . . . It's just the way my mother and grandmother raised me,"

No one was surprised when Ms. James became the president of her children's pre-school and later, president of the parents association at their elementary school and eventually a Victoria school board trustee, board chairman and ultimately president of the B.C. School Trustees' Association.

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