Helen Fitzsimmons, a civil servant and one of the recipients of the Premier’s Award for Excellence and Innovation, retired on July 4 after more than four decades working for the Yukon government.
On June 16, Premier Ranj Pillai presented four individuals and 10 teams of public servants with the Premier’s Award for Excellence and Innovation, including Fitzsimmons.
The award is aimed at honouring the individual successes and collaborative efforts of employees, fostering productivity, cooperation, understanding and respect within the public service in the territory, according to a statement.
“It is an incredible honour to be recognized for this award,” said Fitzsimmons. “It means that my dedication to the position and service to clients has been recognized and is appreciated. I have worked for the Yukon government for 46 years and have always felt supported but this award says to me that all that hard work was recognized.”
Fitzsimmons, who most recently served in the position of director of administration, finance and systems for the legislative assembly, said she feels fortunate to have been part of an incredible team and hope other employees feel the same.
“I think other employees will see they will be recognized for outstanding achievements and I believe this is an incentive for employees to see if they continue to strive for excellence and improvements in their workplace they will be recognized for their accomplishments.”
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Fitzsimmons has lived in the territory all her life. She turned 63 at the end of March. She started with the Yukon government in 1978, immediately out of high school, and has seen the territory evolve over the years. Her first position was working in health care, collecting premiums for Yukoners and businesses. She then moved to realty services in the department of Highways and Public Works, before starting in the legislative assembly in 2002.
“I have seen a lot of changes over the years, but I guess the biggest change was in 1978 as it was the first time there was an election run on party lines, meaning there would be an elected leader of a newly elected government,” she said. “Also in April 2003, Yukon became the first territory to take over land and resource management responsibilities, a final major step in the territory’s devolution process and I was a part of the team that worked on devolution.”
On April 27, the Yukon Legislative Assembly paid glowing tributes to Fitzsimmons for her dedication and service. She is described as someone who maintains a very happy attitude and smiles through the heavy and demanding workload.
Speaker Jeremy Harper thanked her for her dedication, passion, perseverance, guidance, respect for others, professionalism and, most of all, the leadership shown throughout her entire career.
“Helen, you have always been a rock to cling to for this assembly during its many storms, and you will be greatly missed in our workspace,” he said. “I know that there are many coworkers’ lives and hearts that you have touched through your positive light as you put a smile on their faces.”
Fitzsimmons has been a constant part of the legislative assembly office. During a change in political leadership or of a political party, she is described as helping everyone deal with the transition and keeping the workflow going.
Fitzsimmons’ tenure at the legislative assembly saw her work with five premiers and countless MLAs.
“I have worked with many premiers and MLAs and found that all elected members have always done their best to serve Yukoners. I’m very proud of the fact that, with a small staff, we delivered all the services that larger jurisdictions do,” she said.
Former premier and current Klondike MLA Sandy Silver said Fitzsimmons is much more than just a long-time employee of the Yukon government and the legislative assembly, but also an “icon of public service and a dear friend.”
He said Fitzsimmons went above and beyond on every issue and what she brought to the table “was extensive knowledge of public policy, best practices in other jurisdictions [and] a unique ability to communicate with all of the MLAs on very complex topics with ease.”
“I always felt that we were in good hands with Helen in our meetings,” he said, describing her as a dedicated public servant. “She always had an ‘it’s no problem’ attitude.”
“We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your dedication, your vast knowledge and your positive attitude has been an absolute asset for all of us.”
NDP Leader Kate White said Fitzsimmons influenced everyone she came in contact with during her time at the legislative assembly office.
“She holds us all together. She makes it all work by allowing and supporting each of those other roles and all of those important offices to do the important work that they do,” she said.
When the News asked how she was able to excel in her work despite other commitments, Fitzsimmons said “I put in many hours and gave up vacation time to get the job done.”
She adds that her parents were inspirational to her successful career.
“Every pay cheque I received I knew I worked for it and that made my parents proud and when my parents were proud I knew I had accomplished something really important.”
During the session, Fitzsimmons was given the opportunity to address the packed assembly. She said that moment was her fondest memory and she feels privileged to be able to speak in the assembly. It was an honour to receive the tributes, she said.
“I have always felt supported and encouraged but that tribute cinched the deal,” Fitzsimmons said in an email to the News. “I was asked what was the key to my success and longevity in the legislative assembly and I said building positive relationships, while negotiating with flair, leading others, and being able to say ‘no.’”
“It seems like only yesterday that I was walking into this building on my first day of work in June 1978. I have seen many changes over those years and cannot believe how fast the time has flown by,” she said, noting that she has thoroughly enjoyed the 21 years she has worked with the legislative assembly.
“I thank Patrick Michael for hiring me and believing I could do the job. I would also like to thank his successors, Floyd McCormick and Dan Cable, who continued to believe in me and supported whatever ideas I came up with — and I came up with lots.”
“I can’t believe how much we have accomplished. Thank you for your support and encouragement,” she said.
Fitzsimmons also thanked her partner, Roger, family and friends who supported her all the way throughout her illustrious career.
“Sadly, my mom couldn’t attend today, but my dad is here and he turns 93 on Sunday [April 30],” she said when she received tributes in the legislature. “My parents taught all their children to work so hard that your employer doesn’t think you are replaceable. I think I honoured their wishes.”
Contact Patrick Egwu at firstname.lastname@example.org