A civic state of mind

A civic state of mind

Ed Dooley first arrived in Calgary from Ontario back in 1962. As his car crested the foothill overlooking the city he distinctly remembers two things: one, it was nothing more than a valley of homes; and two, for the middle of January it was warm. Plus 20 warm.

"I thought 'this is great,'" he says. "I didn't even have to wear a jacket. Well, it was just a chinook, and the next morning you wouldn't believe how cold it was - minus 40. I went out and bought a heavy duty jacket like I was in the Arctic. After that it wasn't so bad."

Over the next 47 years a lot of changes happened to that once sleepy valley, and Dooley, an independent mortgage broker with SEALL Investments, was there to witness them first-hand. Now just a few weeks away from retirement ("my licence expires at the end of the month, and I don't think I'm going to renew it," he tells me), I was lucky to catch up with him on his home turf.

Politics as usual
Greeting me at the Telus Convention Centre with a firm handshake and a big smile, I notice Dooley walks with a slight limp. A mistake would be to think that he lets it slow him down though. As an ex-football player who was invited to try out for the Toronto Argos and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he's dealt with more pain than that.

"They tell me I'm done - I'm finished," he says, before releasing his laugh that could only be described as contagious; almost everyone he talks with can't help but smile after hearing it. "I don't know though. Other than a cramp in my legs it doesn't even bother me."

We're both here for almost the same reason - me, to cover the Alberta Mortgage Brokers Association annual conference, he, to receive a lifetime achievement award at said conference - but when I mention that it's my first trip to Calgary, his enthusiasm for the city that he has watched grow takes over and releases his inner tour guide.

So while CIBC economist Benjamin Tal is inside telling the groups of delegates that Alberta is going to be the first province to bounce back from the economic slowdown, Dooley and I take our time to walk the cobblestone streets of downtown Calgary, eventually ending at the old steps of city hall.

"We spent a lot of time taking pictures for the press on these old front steps after every big argument, and there was a lot of them" he says, speaking of his time spent as alderman from 1968 to 1971, back in the pioneering days of Calgary politics with other well-known Calgarians - including future premier, then mayor, Ralph Klein.

In fact, a Calgary resident for only five-and-a-half years, Dooley was surprised he was even elected.
It's likely though that his naturally gregarious and likeable character featured more prominently than his Ontario upbringing, and he turned that into a mayoral run in 1974. Despite being touted by the press as "Calgary's next mayor," his bid was unsuccessful.

"I just didn't have enough time spent here," he says with a hint of regret.

But that didn't stop him from accomplishing a lot, and he laughs while recounting how he invented the eight-hour workday for Calgary politicians.

"We used to work from nine in the morning, stop for lunch, then keep going until 2 a.m.," he says. "I told the speaker that we needed to stop at six so we could go home and eat, and one day I just said to myself that was enough. I stood up, said 'Mr. Speaker it's six o'clock, so I'm going home for dinner.' Well it didn't take long before that caught on."

Pulling double duty as a member of the optimist club, which he is now a lifetime member
of, Dooley was also able to acquire 40 acres of land for what is today Optimist Park.

"It was during when the big boom was on in '69. Everyone was digging holes for buildings with nowhere to put the soil. We [the Optimist Club] brought what used to be a swamp up 20 feet and planted hundreds of trees. It took two or three years to get it up, then we turned it over to the city."

Today the park has a soccer field, two field hockey fields, 10 baseball diamonds and a football field. It's an accomplishment Dooley looks back on with pride.

His true calling
Simply put though, Dooley "couldn't afford the life of politics any longer." While aldermen were making $350 a month, the regular paying job was closer to $1,000. So the same year he acquired the land for Optimist Park, he was also offered a chance at something new - running a friend's mortgage brokerage.

"It was called Anchor Mortgages, and at the time I didn't even know what a mortgage broker was," he says. "Well it didn't work out and I was there for less than a year, but it was too late - I had already gotten a taste of mortgage brokering and I liked it. I found out that it was a sales job and all about your relationship with the client. That's what I was good at." 

In 1970 he started his own company, Lance Mortgage Consultants, and in 1971 he met with a small group of other brokers in the area to discuss what they could do about the "rogue" brokers that were giving everyone a bad name. Through a mutual connection this group was put in touch with a very similar group in Edmonton, and when they all met in Red Deer later that year what they ended up with was the beginning of AMBA.

Inside the foyer of the old municipal building a security guard darts his eyes up in recognition before standing up to meet Dooley's already outreached hand.

"Ed Dooley, I used to work here."

"I know who you are," replies the guard. "I used to work for you, back at Fuller Brushes."

"Fuller Brushes," he told me the day before over the phone. "The place was like KFC. An institution my friend. An institution."

Not only an institution, but also the reason Dooley moved to Calgary in 1962, for a job within the commercial division. In fact, it seems wherever Dooley goes in Calgary, a constantly growing city that now boasts a population of a million, someone either recognizes him, or if they don't, they are easily taken in by his charm - a combination of old-fashioned politeness mixed with the confidence that being in a life of sales can give.

Now seated in a silver Mercedes Benz, Dooley is driving all over Calgary and giving me the insider's guided tour, past buildings he's helped get funding for, then down 17th Avenue, also known as "the Red Mile" for all the Calgary Flames fans who fill the street after games. Dooley explains it differently though.

"This is where all the coffee drinkers and people with long hair like to go," he says. "And there's nothing wrong with that, it's just not really for me."

But it doesn't stop him from pointing out yet another building he helped finance, a three-storey office complex with a corner store on the ground floor. In fact, when Dooley first moved to Calgary there were only three buildings that were nine storeys tall, and they were the tallest in town, he says of the city that is now a pocket of skyscrapers in the centre and surrounded by a sprawling expanse of subdivisions.

One of the most noticeable features of Calgary is the constant activity of cranes building the ever-growing city, and while Dooley admits he didn't have much to do with the giant structures of today, like the currently under construction Encana tower - "that stuff is out of my league," he says. "I mostly deal with risk-type financing, short-term stuff, and that's slowed right down now" - he definitely witnessed not only the city, but also the profile of mortgage brokers grow to what it is today.

"Back then we had to sell to the consumer and the lender to try to get a commission," he says. "One lender finally gave us one per cent - a new lender - but it didn't last long and went under. But it didn't matter because the seeds were sewn and soon after other lenders eventually came around."

Combine his pioneering days in the broker industry, his AMBA involvement from day one (he was also president in 1979/1980) and his profile in the community, and it's no question that he's the perfect recipient for AMBA's lifetime achievement award.

That night at the gala, following a slide show calling him an "icon in the industry," Dooley, truly humbled, accepts the award to a standing ovation.

"What else can you ask for?" he says from the podium, doing a good job of hiding the fact that he's choked up. "You do what you love and spend time with your friends, then you get a pat on the back and you get respect."

Just then a voice booms from somewhere in the audience: "We love you Ed."

Whether he hears it or not Dooley doesn't respond, but simply walks off the stage into a sea of handshakes from well-wishers and the beginning of a well-deserved retirement.