In celebration of International Women’s Day, the Alberni Valley News is recognizing some of the women who make this community a better place to live.
Some know life’s calling instinctively, others find direction through career listings, higher education or even spiritually.
Nancy Wilmot found her calling, her dream job, through a passionate desire to help people.
“I hadn’t thought about journalism; it wasn’t my ambition,” she recalled of her younger years, pursuing a double major in political science.
Writing was something she had given thought to, though. She also had a flair for motivational speaking. Only after moving with her young family to Port Alberni in the 1990s would she find a way to harness these skills as a producer and videographer.
“At that time, Port Alberni was going through a big strike at the mills and lot of people were looking for a way out of it,” she said. “I had an idea for a show about helping people manage that.”
Wilmot took her idea to Shaw TV (now Shaw Spotlight), the cable TV provider. While her show remained only a concept, she succeeded in landing a volunteer position with the locally based community channel service.
Community stations have been a local media presence in Western Canada for decades. They are funded by cable providers as a regulatory requirement of the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. The service offers cable subscribers community access programs produced by staff and volunteers.
After four years of volunteering with Shaw, Wilmot landed a paid position as a Port Alberni-based producer with the company. Twenty-seven years later, she still thrives on the work, although she does not consider it work in the conventional sense.
“If you do something you love, you will never have to work a day in your life,” she said, and as the Chinese philosopher Confucius once observed.
As a producer, Wilmot instructs and mentors community volunteers in video production while continuing to produce her own program content in the form of features and interviews. She draws a distinction between conventional TV news reportage and what they do at Shaw Spotlight.
“My job is to hold up a mirror to the community and reflect back its best self,” she said. “I think providing options and solutions is more of what we do than just providing news.”
She feels extremely fortunate to have had the role: “It’s one of the luckiest things in my life.”
In face-to-face feature interviews, Wilmot gets up close and casual with her subjects, inviting the viewer to empathize with people or at least gain some clearer insight into their personalities. And they do open up.
“It’s very intimate once you turn the camera on and the lights,” she said. “It’s a heightened reality for the person being interviewed.”
She feels people are more receptive and trusting than they might be to a probing news journalist.
“I have never gone out and been met with mistrust,” she said. “People are always glad to see us because we tell their good stories.”
In recognition of her contributions to city life, Wilmot was named Port Alberni’s Citizen of the Year in 2014 during the Community Excellence Awards.
Wilmot’s sense of community may stem from an upbringing in Minnedosa, a “very rural” farming community in southwestern Manitoba. Her family grew wheat and her parents were strong members of the community. They believed that service to community is one of the highest possible aspirations.
For the past two years, Wilmot has had to work from home, unable to engage directly with her volunteer contributors at Shaw Communications. Normally she works closely with them, editing and packaging their shows.
“It’s different,” she said. “Like every other profession, we just had to pivot when the pandemic happened.”
She and her husband have been able to get away on their 31-foot sailboat moored over at French Creek, a point of departure for exploring the Inside Passage and destinations such as Desolation Sound. The boat was ideal for family outings when their kids were younger.
“Thank goodness for that,” she said. “That’s been the best retreat for us.”
At home, she continues to hold the mirror to the best of Port Alberni. They have no plans to leave their adopted home and Nancy certainly has no intention of parting with her good fortune.
“I think I’m Port Alberni for life,” she said. “Once you’ve got the Citizen of the Year, you can’t leave, can you?”