Kelly Stewart-Belisle is a woman who works diligently behind the scenes to help so many others. In her IT work, to being a daughter of a mother with Alzheimer’s, a mom to teenagers, and an active woman in her community, she knows that living fully is about showing up for others even when things are tough. She is creative, she is brilliant and she has a big heart.
Tell us a little about yourself
I was born in Sumerside, P.E.I. – an Airforce brat – and we moved every 2-3 years till I was in Grade 9 when we settled in North Bay, Ontario – so mostly that is what I call home as it’s where I attended high school. At 18 (after graduation) I attended College at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario where I studied Fine Arts.
I have two older brothers and a younger sister that still live in North Bay as do my parents.
My Mom and Dad have been sweeties since they first met at 14. They are one of those couples that still hold hands and sneak kisses when they think nobody is looking. At least they were before December 2015, when Mom’s Alzheimers finally got the best of her and my Dad called me in Ottawa for help. He uttered one word, one word I will NEVER forget. He said ‘help’. I was there 4 and a half hours later by his side and stayed for 5 weeks. I initiated the engagement of CCS Crisis Services (who are amazing by the way) but as it turns out, 4 days later my Dad and I had to admit her tothe hospital and it was clear that she was never coming home again.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my life. Up until when Mom started to show the undeniable symptoms of Alzheimer’s, we were pretty much one of those families that had no significant health or other issues. We gave thanks for our happy, healthy family at every gathering. For the past year (with only a few exceptions) I have continued to try to get up to see my Mom and help my Dad every 3 weeks.
Mom …Mother & Wife
I have been married for almost 21 years, but my husband and I have actually been sweeties for going on 27 years.
My husband puts up with me. As an extremely strong, opinionated, Type-A women I can be a handful. He gets me. He lets me be me. And as much as he can drive me nuts sometimes, I cannot imagine my life without him. He is my rock!!
As a family we love doing things together. Skating on the canal, browsing the farmers market on weekends, or curled up together watching movies. We also spend every summer moment we can camping. Sitting by a campfire, making S’mores, watching the sunset over the lake is what it is all about. Snuggled in bed at night in our tent, listening to my kids breathing (and hubby snoring), the sounds of the loons on the lake makes my heart happy.
Although I started my career out in the Arts and Graphic Arts, I quickly morphed into Computer Graphics followed by IT and finally Cyber Security. All in all, I’ve worked in IT for over 30 years now.
I am the Global Director of Cyber Security for a large Global IT Company. Sounds important doesn’t it – but it is really more about my team. I am very proud of the team I’ve built and get to work with every day. They are an exception group of people.
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few exceptional managers and mentors over the years that I owe so much to. One shared with me that ‘an employee’s job is to make their boss look good; and a boss’s job is to make their employee look good’. And even more importantly another taught me how to be a leader and not just a boss.
Who inspires you in your life? Who do you look up to? And why?
My mother inspires me. She managed to raise four kids while living in poverty for many years (but as children we never knew it till we were older) she had a way of making things work. Of course it helped that she could slice a tomato so thin you could read through it and then with it could feed a whole family on that single tomato. Growing up our dinner Table was always filled with lots of laughter and lots of people. She’d invite the kid’s friends, the neighbors and some of the many, many, many extended family we always seemed to have – then she’d just cut all the pork chops in two and dinner was served.
Admittedly, my mother was not always an easy person to love. She was demanding, controlling and unbending in her determination to do things her way and have everyone around her do things her way. But she was also loving, warm, intelligent, funny and oh so talented. She always managed to carve out time and space in whatever tiny home we lived in at the time to create the most amazing master pieces. In my opinion she is one of the foremost Canadian painters of her time. Looking back now even I am staggered by the volume of work she amassed as an artist.
What have been some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome in your life (you can share an example from different stages of your life, if you’d like)? What did you do to move through them? What did you learn? What do you wish to share with others?
My Mom cast a large shadow. She was such an amazing artist and at the beginning of my career in the arts everything I did was measured against her. ‘Oh – you get that from your Mom’, ‘Oh – you learned that from your Mom’. I struggled with that and that it was never simply about me and my art. I believe this is the reason that I drifted so far away from the arts and into the Computer industry instead. I stayed away from the arts for many many years and only returned to it about 12 years ago.
I finally figured out that it was about me if I wanted it to be. That I had to follow my heart and do my art for me and that that was just fine, in fact it was better the just fine.
Now of course my challenges are all about my coming to terms with and surviving with my Mom’s illness. She is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s and communication is very difficult. Also because of the type of home she is in I can no longer talk to her every day like I used to. I write her emails (almost daily) and the staff there will print them out and read them to her but I have to keep them short as her cognitive capacity is very minimal these days.
To help fill the void, I’ve started journaling of sorts. Working in IT I always of course have a device of some sort at my fingertips (if not several). My laptop, iPad or iPhone are always with me. I’ll open the notes app on anyone one of these and write her long letters, expressing what I wish I could say to her, or sometimes capturing funny stories of things she says or does. I’ll use these to share with my kids (as they don’t get to see her as much as I do) some of the lighter moments so they have happy thoughts and memories of their Grandmother. My goal is to put these all together at some point and share them with my siblings (maybe?).
What are you most proud of?
Family. Growing up my parents taught us that family is everything. I am proud of my amazing kids, I am proud of the parents I had and the values they taught me. The same values that I hope I am passing on to my kids.
Without a doubt my very proudest accomplishments are my kids. I have three of the greatest kids anyone could wish for. They are smart, sensitive and oh so funny. They make me laugh all the time – they have the best sense of humor. Anyone that knows me knows that I do a lot of charity events/work in my spare time and has probably also met my children as they have participated in so many of these projects and events right alongside of me. They make me so proud.
What do you want your older self to know?
That it’s okay to not be perfect. On one of my very early on job interviews I was asked ‘what is your best and your worst trait’. My reply – ‘I’m a Perfectionist’. I’ve since learned to use my ‘power for good’ as I put it but I do wish I’d learned earlier the importance of ‘good enough’ and what is truly important. Is it important that my house is perfect – no. Is it important that I spent the day tobogganing with my kids – yes!!
‘It’s not the thing you fling, but how you fling the thing you fling’ – Chris in the Morning
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