A refreshing memoir that challenges readers to make the most of life’s opportunities.
After moving to Canada from Jamaica in 1976, a colleague at Scotiabank told Mary Anne Chambers not to be surprised if she didn’t get very far. The overlapping characteristics of her identity — Caribbean immigrant, Black businesswoman, Catholic, wife, and mother—were expected to hinder her both personally and professionally. Yet, against all odds, she went on to attain senior roles in both business and politics.
In her inspiring memoir, Chambers shares lessons from the moments that challenged and defined her. From the Heart encourages us to be our authentic selves, to embrace curiosity, to find value in our life experiences and those we meet along the way.
About the author
Mary Anne Chambers’ life experiences span the worlds of business, government, and community service. She has been recognized with an Order of Ontario, a Meritorious Service Medal, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, a Golden Jubilee Medal of Queen Elizabeth the Second, and four honorary doctorates. She lives in Thornhill, Ontario.
Excerpt: From the Heart: Family. Community. Service. (by (author) Mary Anne Chambers)
Contrary to the advice of more experienced members of my campaign team that I should never go out campaigning by myself, I decided that I needed to do exactly that. I was nervous about what the experience would be like. This was a self-imposed test and I hoped to be able to control how things went, to any extent I could. Most of all, I wanted to avoid embarrassing myself in the company of members of my team.
I had never, ever been in this kind of situation before. I felt vulnerable. I felt anxious, uncomfortable, even a bit afraid. I thought of how I felt when strangers came to my door, uninvited and without warning. They always wanted something. My reception could never be described as warm, under those circumstances. Yet here I was, exposing myself to the possibility of precisely that kind of response, and to think, I was going to be doing this, a lot, for the next few months. I had obviously not given enough thought to what I was agreeing to when I agreed to run for political office.
I couldn’t have had a more perfect day for a walk in the riding of Scarborough East. The sky was almost perfectly clear, the day sunny but not too warm. The few clouds appeared distant and destined to stay intact. There was no sign of rain and there was little movement in the air. I had chosen a Saturday morning hoping that would improve my chances of finding people at home.
I parked my car some distance away from the first house that I would visit. I had selected an unfamiliar street where I didn’t expect to encounter anyone I knew. Although the particular street was unfamiliar, it was close to the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), a place I knew well from my many years as a student there.
With some candidate cards and the voters’ list for that area in hand, I approached a man who was standing outside the house. He wasn’t working in his garden, and he didn’t seem to be working on the car that was parked in the driveway. He was by himself, but he looked preoccupied. Maybe around five and a half feet tall, he looked to be in his sixties, maybe early sixties. I thought, or perhaps I hoped, that he wouldn’t see my presence as an intrusion.
“Good morning, sir,” I said, choosing that greeting as a good balance between being pleasant and seeming too familiar. I didn’t think that “Hi, how are you?” would have been appropriate given the reason I was there, although under normal circumstances, I would have felt comfortable greeting him that way.
“Are you Mr. … “” I asked, referring to the name shown on the voters’ list for that address.
“I am,” he said blandly, not hinting as to whether or not I was imposing myself on his morning.
“I am Mary Anne Chambers, the Liberal candidate for this riding,” I said, following the sequence that the team had determined for our door-knocking outings, and I handed him my candidate card.
Then I mentioned that I’d noticed from the voters’ list that someone by the name of … also lived at this location. It was a woman’s name, with the same last name as his. My heart sank to somewhere close to the ground when the man told me that person was his wife but she had passed away three weeks before. My first house! I told him I was very sorry to hear about his loss, asked him if he was doing okay and wished him well. I then turned to leave, at which point he asked me what I had wanted to speak to him about.
“It’s not important,” I told him. “It can wait for another time.” I asked him to take care of himself and I moved on.
I crossed the road in a semi-conscious attempt to move as far away from the first house as possible, quickly walking past eight or nine houses while I tried to compose myself. I then took a deep breath, turned onto a driveway, walked up a few steps to a front door and rang the doorbell. A man opened the solid door but left the storm door closed while saying, “I am tired of people trying to sell me stuff.”
I cringed and heard my voice say, “I am not trying to sell you anything, sir. Wait, I am. I am actually selling myself!”
The kind man obviously saw how embarrassed I was, opened the storm door, and said, “Speak to me.” I went through the motions and left as quickly as I could. My second house!
I did a few more houses without incident before deciding that I had had enough for my first outing, turned around and headed back in the direction of my car, still on the other side of the road from the first house. As I got closer, I noticed the man at that house was still in his driveway and he was looking in my direction. I then heard him calling out, “Hello, hello.” Wishing I could disappear, I tried to pretend he was calling out to someone else. He crossed the road to meet me, his arm outstretched, holding my candidate card.
“This is you, right?”
“Yes, it’s me,” as if acknowledging guilt.
He then said that after I left his place, he had taken the card to some of his neighbours and told them about me. He said he told them I was the kind of person they needed in government. He believed I would look after their interests.
He told me he was sure that he had secured seven votes for me. I thanked him most sincerely.
When I got to my car, I sat still for several minutes, trying to breathe normally, processing all that I had just experienced.
This is no ordinary autobiography. Mary Anne sets out a clear choice for each of us to make — to be either an advocate or an observer. Central to her life journey, and now shared with us in engaging detail, is what caused her to be an advocate for good from childhood through to the present. Integrity, passion, loving your neighbour, shine through every page. Mary Anne, thank you for showing the power of not sitting passively on the fence, but instead demonstrating the rewards of taking action at every opportunity.
The Honourable Douglas Orane, author; philanthropist; and former Senator in the Government of Jamaica
A wonderful book full of wisdom and hope. A fresh and unpredictable memoir by a remarkable woman who recognized from an early age her obligation to share the privileges and benefits she enjoyed growing up in Jamaica, as a senior banker in Canada, as a Cabinet Minister in the Ontario Government and as a volunteer and philanthropist. Mary Anne’s life story makes a potent case for what can be accomplished when we work together in shared dignity and mutual respect. A tonic for our times.
Judith Wright, retired Deputy Minister, Government of Ontario
Remarkably inspirational, especially for women and girls of colour. The breaking of a triple glass ceiling in not one, but two, of the most restricted areas they face, politics and finance. Dr. Chambers outlines her path in these extraordinary challenges while maintaining the highest degree of humanity, compassion and enthusiasm, in the midst of building her community.
B. Denham Jolly, author, broadcaster, human rights activist, philanthropist and community leader
In her autobiography, Mary Anne Chambers writes ‘from the heart’, revealing to us her true soul, a leader with the power of conviction, fearless in her pursuit of justice and equality for all. Her journey of self-discovery emboldens each of us to become the best we can be, persons audacious enough to dedicate our lives to love and service.
Dr. Fred W. Kennedy, educator and author
From the Heart confirmed my earlier impressions of Mary Anne based on encounters from numerous community events. She is an accomplished person of integrity. I found myself totally engaged as she revealed how her experiences emanating from positions of privilege served to tackle both personal and societal issues in a practical and caring way.
Bernice Carnegie, author, speaker, storyteller, co-founder of the Carnegie Institute and the Herbert H. Carnegie Future Aces Foundation
I am drawn to calm and strong and Minister Chambers (I still call Mary Anne, ‘Minister’) personifies that. I did not know the foundation of love, empathy and compassion that is within her until I got to know her better. I hope this book encourages all of us to use whatever influence and power we all possess for good, as she has done, for it is not our obligation to change the world, yet we are not exempt from trying.
Irwin Elman, former Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in Ontario
In From the Heart, Mary Anne Chambers does us all the favour of detailing her life’s journey — from high school in Jamaica, to senior leadership roles at Scotiabank, to cabinet minister in Ontario and significant roles in community service. Our community and Canada need stories of Black accomplishments told by Black leaders and the author delivers with a heartfelt easy-to-read story of grit, determination and inspired leadership. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking inspiration and encouragement in making a difference.
Trevor L. Massey, Chair, Lifelong Leadership Institute
From the Heart speaks to the heart, opens the mind and challenges one to be and do better. Dr. Chambers reflects on her full and impactful life, gently sharing wisdom and insights from her personal and professional achievements and learnings. Her journey of caring, commitment and courage — indeed all that she has done and will continue to do — is characterized by genuine humility, profound gratitude and unshakeable integrity. Reading her book is not only solace for troubling times, it gives one hope for creating a happier future.
Louis Charpentier, former Secretary of the Governing Council, University of Toronto
In the well-written biography, From the Heart, we meet Mary Anne Chambers, daughter, wife, mother, banker, politician, community supporter, grandmother. Mary Anne excels in each of those roles
Paula de Ronde, author, founder of Arts and Culture Jamaica, and past president of the Toronto Library Association
As a long-time friend and fellow political traveller I can say with confidence that Mary Anne absorbed the Christian lessons of her childhood and walked the difficult road of humility, justice, and mercy in business, politics and life. A delightful and thoughtful read.
The Honourable John McKay, Member of Parliament for Scarborough Guildwood, Government of Canada
From The Heart is a timely, refreshing, and authentic memoir of Mary Anne’s pathway to success from Jamaica, the land of her birth, to her chosen home of Canada and inspires readers to be the best that we can be.
Dr Pamela Appelt O.D., Retired Judge, Court of Canadian Citizenship