A call to service
Mayor's executive assistant Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon a vital cog in St. Albert Place machine
Wednesday, Jul 03, 2013 06:00 am
Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon, Q&A
"Hopefully it's still to come!"
What's your advice for being an executive assistant to a public official?
"In everything, anticipate the next steps."
If you could go back and change one thing in your life, what would it be?
"Pursue higher education."
When you were eight, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"A race car driver. (Danica Patrick beat me to it)."
What is your guilty pleasure?
Reading an edition of People magazine cover to cover.
It is a tray of chocolates that illustrates what Sandyne Beach-McCutcheon does best.
The mayor's executive assistant came to this interview on Tuesday June 25 with a small cardboard tray of peanut butter chocolates, first explaining they are for us to share, but she never touches them. When we move away from talking about life in the mayor's office and onto what she enjoys, she points to the chocolates and says she indulges in candy making here and there. And then she says something curious.
“I brought them in case we don't have enough topics,” she says with a laugh.
It is not just the kind gesture of bringing a treat that stands out, nor that she sends me home with the tray at the end. What stands out is that she brought them to help me be successful in my interview and with my story about her.
And in going through the interview, there are myriad other examples of Beach-McCutcheon helping those around her be successful. She stood outside for 90 minutes this winter one day holding ball after ball of snow, trying to help youngest son Malcolm bring a photograph he imagined to life. She was named to the mayor's committee that looked at St. Albert Trail and was responsible for writing the final report, helping with the success of that committee. When she took vacation one year, it was to volunteer for Special Olympics, on which she served on the organizing committee.
Even Beach-McCutcheon at one point in the interview says that helping whoever the mayor is be successful is a key part of her job.
“You're always trying to make sure everything is the best possible it can be for him for him to be successful,” she says.
She even adds that, “Essentially if it's been a good day for him, it's been a good day for me.”
And Mayor Nolan Crouse knows how important Beach-McCutcheon and the work she does is in his day-to-day work.
“I don't have to worry about the details of anything that she handles,” Crouse says. “If I ask her to do something or she assumes something, I know it's done with the utmost professionalism, quality, and it's on schedule.”
And that could be anything, really. Beach-McCutcheon agrees that being an executive assistant actually involves being about a half-dozen other things many call themselves for a career. She does some of the usual tasks such as typing letters, keeping the mayor's schedule and taking phone calls, but she is also an event planner, a counsellor, a crisis manager or a food expert. On one occasion with one week to spare, she was pressed into finding haggis for a regional mayor's dinner, even though she knew nothing about it.
But she found the haggis. And smoothed over a potential crisis.
“If you would have told me I would eventually learn where to get really good haggis, I would have said, 'Not on your life,” Beach-McCutcheon says.
She has experience – before coming to work in St. Albert, the city in which she has lived for almost 29 years, in 2004, she worked in former Edmonton mayor Bill Smith's office. She served with former St. Albert mayor Paul Chalifoux for about 18 months until Crouse took office in 2007. And she admits she has learned a lot.
“Really you get the bird's-eye view. You see everything and you learn a great deal by circumstance in the things that arise,” said Beach-McCutcheon. “You're doing it at a different scale, a different arena, so it's interesting.”
Yet specifics on her day-to-day role are hard to come by. She speaks generally of helping the mayor be successful, of keeping an eye on e-mails and the news to see if the day might change suddenly for Crouse. Ask her if trust is an important part of her work and Beach-McCutcheon says yes, but that's the case for almost everybody.
And Crouse said he isn't surprised at some of her responses, calling her one of the most private people he has ever met.
“She is extremely private. She is very close to her work and her family and her home,” Crouse says. “There's an unassuming character about her. She's not seeking anything that's for her own good.”
She shares the date of the interview is her 32nd anniversary with husband Wayne, that oldest son Willis is an assistant front-desk manager at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto. She talks about how she used to love cake decorating until Cake Boss came along and made it mainstream. She shares that maybe someday when she retires she'll go to university but isn't sure what she'll study.
“There's a lot of interesting things out there and maybe there's something I could do,” Beach-McCutcheon says.
But for now she sees her role not just as a job, but as a kind of public service to the community, even if she wasn't voted into office.
“Positions like this are a call more than a job because there is an element of serving there. You are serving the community,” she says. “You are serving an individual to help them serve the community.”
And of course she makes chocolate. And she's successful at it.