“We were Jim and Joan before we left and that’s who we still are,” insisted Joan Grant.
Brigadier-General The Honourable J.J. Grant, CMM, ONS, CD, (Ret’d) is proud to have been the province’s 32nd lieutenant governor but doubts he will be using his title much.
“I’ll still attend the occasional event as a former lieutenant governor but I won’t need a title when I’m meeting people in the grocery store or on the streets of New Glasgow,” said Jim Grant.
He joined the military as a New Glasgow high school cadet, continued through his years at Mount Allison University, became commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Nova Scotia Highlanders (North) and eventually was named brigadier-general and commander of Atlantic Militia Area before retiring in 1989.
Never for a moment did he imagine himself as Nova Scotia’s lieutenant governor.
“I read in the paper that five people had been nominated for the position and was shocked to find my name among them. It was the first I’d heard of it and I didn’t take it very seriously.”
Soon after he was asked to go to Halifax for an interview and he went to see what was involved.
“Later I was asked, on short notice, to go to Ottawa. At that point I began to wonder what was going on but I was not expecting to meet with the governor general and the prime minister.”
Both Grants admit they had a moment’s hesitation about the office.
“I wondered if I was capable, if I was the right person for the position, but I decided I would do my very best,” said Jim.
Joan, a cancer survivor who spent many years involved with highland dancing, pipe bands and figure skating, wondered about her health.
“I was a little uncertain but I didn’t want to hold him back,” said Joan, who missed very few events through the years.
Formally installed as the queen’s representatives in Nova Scotia, the Grants moved into an apartment on the second floor of Government House and let staff guide them through their early days.
Many years of attending military events helped them with the transition, Joan said.
“Because of Jim having gone so far in the military we were quite used to ceremony and official dinners and events. That’s an advantage we may have had over some but we had lots to learn.”
During their five years in the position, the Grants attended 1,360 events and the lieutenant governor, who is a patron of 65 organizations, delivered 976 speeches.
“Aside from not knowing how busy the job was, we had no idea how enjoyable much of it would be,” said Jim.
One wall in their New Glasgow apartment is dedicated to photos of African and Mi’kmaq events and both agree they were among their favourites.
“Anytime we were involved with youth groups was also very enjoyable. I loved having school children visit Government House and was often impressed by their questions,” said Jim
A visit to the queen was, not surprisingly, a highlight of their tenure.
‘We had 20-25 minutes alone with her and it was very comfortable. I was a little surprised to find myself eye to eye with her and realize she is quite a small woman. I told her I had been drum major in a band that played for Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip during their royal visit to Halifax in 1951,” said Joan.
While in London, the Grants were with two other lieutenant governors and had a full schedule of events.
“Her Majesty was very interested in who we were seeing and where we were going. As we were leaving she told us to remember to pace ourselves. Imagine that advice coming from her, with her busy schedule,” said Jim.
When the Grants accompanied Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall on their visit to Nova Scotia they left Government House for a hotel to make space for the royal entourage.
“We also had a visit from Prince Edward who travelled with a much smaller entourage and he stayed with us at Government House,” said Joan.
Seeing first-hand the contributions volunteers make to the province was one of the most gratifying parts of the job, said the former lieutenant governor.
“Our volunteer efforts exceed other provinces based on our population. People would be very impressed if they were aware of all the volunteer work that goes on in our communities,” he added.
Though there are still mornings when the Grants reach reflexively for the daily list of events that gave shape to their last five years, they are happily settling back into life in New Glasgow.
Both repeatedly expressed their gratitude for the staff who worked with them.
“Early on we realized many of them were the age of our grandchildren so we suggested they think of us as their grandparents and we got along beautifully,” said Joan.
Prominent among their family photos is one featuring a bright-eyed black toddler, the daughter of a staff member.
“He is a lad from Africa who spent five years trying to bring his wife to Canada and was finally successful. This is the product that followed,” Jim said, pointing to the little girl’s photo.
Now that he has had a little time to reflect on his time as lieutenant governor, the former businessman, accountant and military officer does so with obvious pride.
“Except for my family, it was the greatest experience of my life.”