Naseem Hassanali will forever hold a special place in her heart for the Royal City.
Hassanali recently retired as the executive assistant to the mayor of New Westminster, a job that gave her a unique perspective on the city.
"It's full of traditions, heritage," she said. "I learned a lot. Each day of my learning I got to know that it is unique, it is very special. That is why it is the Royal City."
Hassanali started working with the City of New Westminster on March 14, 1988, having previously worked for Surrey Memorial Hospital and the B.C. Health Association. The city hall job appealed to Hassanali as it meant a shorter commute - and more time at home with her young children and family.
"The mayors of the time that I have worked with have always been interested in my family," she said. "My children, luckily have all had very good education, good careers now. It is really thanks to this city."
Hassanali served as executive assistant to four mayors - Tom Baker, Betty Toporowski, Helen Sparkes and Wayne Wright.
"I always feel that the job that I have is like the colours of the bulbs in the light. They change.
You could have a blue, you could have a green, you could have a red. My job is to make sure that the image of the mayor's office is portrayed well. I believe in that," she said. "The mayor's office is very, very important to the residents, to the citizens.
Whoever takes the chair, to me is not important, it is the office that is important. It's not the personality."
Booking appointments, planning events and fielding phone calls have all been part of Hassanali's job.
"You have to be very courteous in this job. Anything you do, you are really representing the mayor," she said. "People come to the mayor as either a first or a last recourse. You have to be very sensitive to that fact."
Hassanali has dealt with a wide range of people through the years, including the media, officials from various organizations that the city works with, and visitors such as governor generals, lieutenant-governors, ministers, diplomats and officials from sister cities in Japan, China and the Philippines.
"This is kind of a hub. You have so many pies that you have to look at," she said. "What you have to do is you have to be very calm. I think I am. You have to be very professional in your ways. You have to be humble, you have to listen."
Hassanali has had a unique opportunity to provide a sounding board to her bosses, including current Mayor Wayne Wright.
In addition to sharing a lot of laughs with his executive assistant, Wright said he always kept her apprised of anything he was working on.
"I use Naseem as a confidant in the office," he said. "There wasn't too much she didn't know."
While it's "definitely a loss" to the city to lose someone with Hassanali's experience and knowledge, Wright is pleased she will have time to spend with her family in retirement.
"It would be very hard to ever find a person better than Naseem Hassanali," he said. "She is always a pleasure to be with. Even with the pressures, she never panics."
Along with the day-to-day operations of the mayor's office, Hassanali helped organize various events and banquets through the years. In her last week on the job, she was busy making arrangements for her final May Day banquet - a celebration she knew nothing about when she took the job at city hall.
"I have come to really love it. It is so special to this city. That's one thing I admire about this city, it is so strong in its traditions and it has held to its traditions even though the dynamics have changed," she said. "There is young people moving to this city but the traditions are continuing."
Through the years, Hassanali has also helped plan events including long service awards for city employees, committee recognition dinners, inaugural dinners and Remembrance Day banquets.
"Remembrance Day is another very special one for me. I cry every year. It's so touching. What we are today is really thanks to the veterans, the sacrifices they have made to give us what we have today. It is very special to me," she said. "We work so much in partnership with the regiment and the Legion. This is one thing that is so special about the city.
We work together. Remembrance Day is so important. We work together. It's not a one-person show."
The Canadian citizenship ceremonies hosted by the City of New Westminster have special meaning for Hassanali.
"I am not a born Canadian. I feel that Canada has so many opportunities. When we host the citizenship ceremony it brings back my own memories of when I became a Canadian," she said. "You know the opportunities this country gives - it's so wonderful."
Twenty-nine years after coming to Canada, Hassanali still tears up when discussing Canada. Born and raised in Tanzania, she moved to Canada in 1974.
Back home, Hassanli was working for a Canadian expatriate who was returning to Canada and asked her to come work for him in Toronto. She felt Toronto was too cold, so she decided to move to Vancouver, where one of her sisters was living.
"He told me all the good things about Canada. Politically where we lived, it was not that sound," she said. "He was telling me of all the opportunities we would have. He said, if ever you need my help in anything, here it is, here is my letter. That made me come to Vancouver."
Within a week of arriving in Canada, the 24-year-old had an interview and landed a job. Later, she met her husband Alaudin (Ali), a native of Uganda, at a church event and had a son and a daughter.
"When I started here they were both in elementary school - today they are parents. They have gone through their careers. They have grown with me, with the city. They were always interested in my job. They really are," she said. "Even when they were little. We have always had this thing that at the end of the day we sit and discuss our day, the good of the day and the bad of the day. I have always told them not everything in your day is good - we would always talk."
Hassanali, whose last day on the job was March 28, is looking forward to spending some time in California with her daughter, who is expecting her second child this summer. But first she'll be returning to Nairobi, Kenya, where her mother has been hospitalized for some time.
"What she wanted to do was spend time with all her children. She lived in Canada. She is a Canadian but she wanted to spend time with all her children. That's what she decided to do - she traveled in her 90s to Africa," she said. "My mom has been an inspiration to all of us. She is full of wisdom. My dad died when I was only 21. She has really held the family together. We are a very close-knit family."
Hassanali's three sisters live in B.C., while her two brothers reside in Africa. In addition to spending time with family and traveling, Hassanali will likely be doing more volunteering in her Ismaili church in her retirement.
"That is my faith. I am very strong in that. I won't be bored - we do a lot of charity work. I will get very involved in that. I already am - I will do more. Even to do more for the community at large," she said. "I want to do things. We are so blessed with so many things. We have to do the give back. Give back is so important. I am looking forward to doing that, not only for my family but for humanity."
While there's no shortage of activities to keep Hassanali busy in retirement, it wasn't an easy decision to make.
"When I come to the office, I know I am going to my second home," she said. "I am going to this extended family that I have built."
During lunchtime walks, Hassanali would often meet people she's met through her job at city hall.
"I feel this sense of belonging to such a fine community. I cannot say how grateful I am. The person I am today is through all these people. Each one has taught me something. To be the person I am today. Honestly I have learned from each one," she said. "I carry with me so many pleasant memories."
For more on this story, visit Theresa McManus's blog on The Record's website at www.royalcityrecord.com.
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