It was February 2018 and Marty Deacon, MA’82, BEd’84, was on vacation with her husband, Bruce, in Thornbury, Ont. A call came through their cell phone, alerting them that “a call of significance” was on deck. Startled their phone didn’t have enough bars, they anxiously drove up and down the streets of the idyllic harbour town until they locked into the best reception.
Soon, Deacon was speaking with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who told her that he would be recommending to the Governor General her appointment to the Senate of Canada.
“We had a great, candid call. We had a real conversation about what it means to be a Senator – to be transparent, use good judgement and be independent from all partisan activity,” said Deacon, now marking her second anniversary as The Honorable Marty Deacon, Senator, Ontario, representing the Region of Waterloo.
While the long-time educator, administrator, coach, and amateur sport advocate was an avid follower of current events and a voracious reader, Deacon never considered herself a politician. Until that call. Today, she is a strong advocate for education, young women and physical activity within the chamber.
When the call came in 2018, she knew the prime minister was trying to modernize the Senate. Trudeau had long advocated for changes to make the Senate a less partisan house. In 2015, a major overhaul of the appointment process was announced – independent candidates, not officially affiliated with any political party, would be considered. The criteria for appointment to the Senate would be “outstanding personal qualities that include integrity and ethics and experience in public life, community service or leadership in their field of expertise.”
Deacon grew up in Oakville, Ont., and completed her undergraduate work at McMaster University before enrolling at Western to earn her Master’s in Physical Education. After graduating, she worked briefly in marketing in Toronto before returning to Western for her Bachelor of Education degree.
She has fond memories of her time on campus competing in badminton and rowing.
“I’m one of those people who would go running over to the UCC (University Community Centre) gym at noon for a break from my studies, lead an hour fitness class on this little platform with 200-300 people and then run back and work in my office in Thames Hall. It was a great experience and a wonderful time.”
While in graduate school, Deacon completed a pilot National Coaches Certification Program (Level III) and became the first female in Canada to be qualified to coach at the national level.
After graduation, jobs were scarce, but she landed a position at a high school in Cambridge, Ont., teaching physics, science, biology, and physical education.
While a full-time educator, she started volunteering with high-performance badminton athletes. Kitchener was home to national-level athletes, leading to her involvement with the Ontario Winter Games, Canada Games and then the Olympic Games.
“At that point, for a female, there just weren’t a lot of opportunities to coach, especially at a high level. Any opportunity was mostly volunteer so you certainly couldn’t live on it,” she said.
From the early to late-1980s, she steadily developed her craft as a coach while raising two daughters, Kristine and Kailee, with her husband.
Deacon went on to serve as the badminton team leader at both the Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004 Olympic Games. She was a mission team member at the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio – and the following year reprised that role at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
All told, her role in amateur sports has taken her around the world. Over the past 24 years, Deacon has coached, led or served at 15 Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. Her highest international opportunity was as Chef de Mission for Team Canada at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, an experience she described as an honour and a tremendous challenge.
After a career spanning 35 years in education as a teacher, consultant and administrator, Deacon was considering a change.
“Just as I was considering leaving education, these opportunities arose for Canadians to be nominated or apply to the Senate. I thought, ‘All the work I’ve done over the years on the international stage helped sharpen my focus on my own country and the things that we need to do to make life better for Canadians from coast-to-coast-coast,’” she said.
“When I was at an Indigenous Games, or spoke to the Aboriginal Sports Circle, I would learn about families who still don’t have running water, still don’t have healthy living infrastructure, still don’t have some of the life essentials that every Canadian deserves. I have done significant work promoting education for young girls and minorities. So I thought, ‘Maybe this is a reasonable next step.’”
Today, Deacon represents the Region of Waterloo, the first Senator from the area in 71 years. With no Senators west of the Waterloo Region, she is often called upon to speak or community outreach all the way to the border.
She is passionate about the physical and mental well-being of all Canadians and fervently believes that sport, the arts and education can build better communities. She is also an advocate for the future of women, young girls, children and minorities worldwide.
“The role of the Senate and Senators is not well known, and the media coverage can be largely negative. So, getting out and clarifying our monarchy and the role of Senators in legislation and bills – well, it’s best to do that in person.”
Senators may serve until they reach the age of 75. In the coming years, Deacon could have her work cut out for her.
“We have a world that is fragile right now, we have many sources of conflict, we have issues inside our country that can polarize and divide the nation,” she said. “I believe as Canadians, if we are healthy, strong and connected with our community we can address these larger, complex issues in a meaningful, purposeful way.”
Deacon continues to serve on the Canadian Olympic Committee, Commonwealth Games Canada and the Grand River Jazz Society. She is also involved with Safe Sport and leads the portfolio NHFI, the National Health and Fitness Initiative, where she encourages all Parliamentarians to be healthy and active and take that priority message back to their communities.
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IF YOU GO: Sen. Marty Deacon, MA’82, BEd’84, returns to campus on March 28 as a panelist and speaker at the inaugural Stay in the Game: Pathways for Women in Sport conference, promoting the continued involvement of women in sport beyond graduation.