Cabinet minister copes with challenges

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Ramona Jennex faces political success, personal grief

BY WENDY ELLIOTT The Kings County Advertiser

Ramona Jennex’s Blackberry is zinging. She is the new minster for Service Nova Scotia and the Registry of Motor Vehicles’ computer system had been down across the province for about 16 hours.

The problem with the state-of-the-art software was a mystery, but careful monitoring of the web-based system was underway. "If it goes down again we will advise Nova Scotians immediately," Jennex said confidently.

Kings South’s rookie MLA is also the minister responsible for Municipal Relations, Emergency Management, Immigration, the Residential Tenancies Act and, the portfolio she calls the icing on the cake, Youth.

Jennex says she is looking at government with fresh eyes and, unlike some of her colleagues who laboured in opposition for ages, she might be prepared to move forward faster. “That'll be easier with a majority government. Things won't be stalled. We have lots of great things in the hopper."

Constituency work

Her new Blackberry is a huge asset, Jennex notes, because her new constituency office is under renovation. "With it being the constituency phone people can leave messages about casework and I can get started on files. I'm not going to be able to solve every problem. Some are unsolvable, but I hope I can steer people toward the right place."

She walked all over New Minas looking for an office and Jennex is happy with the Milne Court location she found. "I'm so pleased. It's a heritage building with new geo-thermal heating."

Jennex is also looking forward to working with her new assistant Marshall Tremblay, who was selected from more than thirty talented applicants.

Teacher takes on new challenges

A career educator until this June, Jennex thinks being a teacher helped prepare her for her new responsibilities. "I'm used to working with people who have 25 skill sets and following a personal, administrative and board agenda; so, when I sit at the table in Halifax, I can look at the bigger picture. “That's how I'm used to dealing with people -- in a cooperative, collaborative organization and I can delegate."

Jennex is getting to know two deputy ministers, the CEO of the province's Emergency Measures Office and many other civil servants. "I definitely understand the structure as far as roles and responsibilities are concerned. I've got my feet underneath me and I'm cognizant that this is the very best job in Nova Scotia. "I look for information and discussion before I make a decision, but at the end of the day it's based on who benefits.”

Personal turmoil

Within 24 hours of her swearing in as a cabinet member June 20, Jennex faced a different challenge- a collision that was to cost her son Fraser’s life.

The terrible call came at 11 p.m., she remembers. Within 30 minutes, the Premier had been notified, a flight for her other son was arranged and the divorced parent of four was on the road. Two close friends accompanied her to the New Brunswick hospital. “The doctors were extremely respectful,” she remembers. “They told me it was grave.”

Fraser had a brain shunt in place and a ten percent chance of surviving. In the Saint John Regional Hospital ICU technology, the 21-year-old was hooked up to more than 16 lines.

Jennex’s response was optimistic realism. She spent long hours at the bedside, talking to her boy. For a while, seizures allowed Jennex to fool herself into thinking her son was returning the pressure of her grasp. “I watched all day. His father came.”

After three days, Fraser was in a deep coma and deemed stable, so Jennex drove home to wrestle with her new responsibilities.

Grim turn “I got to Metro and was called back,” she said. Pressure on Fraser’s brain stem caused his life to ebb away. Eight days after the collision, the decision was made to take him off the respirator.

And then, Fraser was gone. His body wracked by trauma, drugs and pneumonia, he was not a candidate for organ donation.

Jennex threw herself into funeral arrangements along with her new role in government.

Amidst her grief, she noticed, “people were nervous about how to handle me.” No one knew what to say. Provoking a few tears is all right, she says. “Grieving is OK.”

Experiencing a loss that no parent should ever have to bear, she mentions her gratitude for the outpouring of kindness her family received and the respect of the media. “Fraser will always be 21”

Over a month later, Jennex thinks of Fraser every morning when she wakes and every night as she goes to sleep. “I never once thought I would be at this place in my life. However, this is where I find myself.”

For her, “Fraser will always be 21. He was a great, great kid. He was quirky, fun, sarcastic.” “I love my job,” Jennex is fortunately able to say. “It keeps me occupied.” But, “when I’m by myself I’m tortured.”

Recalling Fraser’s reaction to her decision to run in Kings South consoles her. “He said, ‘you should have done this a long time ago. It’s about time.’”

Her other three children, her grandchild and her new career are helping Jennex cope with the reality of loss. “I think I will be grieving all my life. Having heard from so many other parents who lost children, I seem to have joined a club that no one wants to belong to.”

Organizations: Registry of Motor Vehicles, Emergency Measures Office, New Brunswick hospital Saint John Regional Hospital ICU

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, New Minas, Halifax

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