“Gentleman” Jim and the ARSS
James Edward Hardwycke Gilderslieth was born on October 5th 1953. His mother, Fiona, was part of that great Hardwycke family whose roots ran so deep in the Marmot area. His father’s name was lost on Fiona: alas, Jim was almost without a name. Out of the depths of the one real conversation she’s had with this fellow who travelled around the countryside selling a diarrhoea cure-all, she remembered that his favourite radio show was The Great Gilderslieth – and that was the only surname she could recall in reference to her tiny baby, so Gilderslieth would be his name. Young Jimmy G., as he was known as a lad was told early of his doubtful lineage, and also told that ne needn’t be ashamed at all. He was part of the Hardwycke empire and would do great things one day. How right his mother was.
When he was nineteen, as a project for his grade thirteen Law, Ethics and History class, he registered as a candidate for Councillor of the Township of Marmot. His girlfriend at the time (now his wife), the lovely Prunella Robeson, encouraged him, “What do you have to lose?” she asked.
After a hard-fought battle in which Jim ran uncontested, his elevation to the high title Councillor of the Town of Marmot took place in the Council Chambers in November 1972. Within four years, Young Jimmy had become ‘Gentleman’ Jim, known for his exceptional manners and sense of chivalry. Also within those four years, he was elected Mayor of Marmot. His Worship ‘Gentleman’ Jim Gilderslieth was sworn in by Judge Horatio Hardwycke, his grandfather on December 5th 1976. The whole family was there. His cousins and his aunts came in droves to see the ceremony that made Jim the town’s twenty eighth mayor. More than twenty five years later, he is still the mayor. In fact, on the occasion of the twenty fifth anniversary of his swearing in, the town gave him a large sterling silver plate to recognise his extraordinary service to Marmot and Marmot County.
In a life filled with remarkable days, May 16th 1975 stands out in Gentleman Jim’s memory. It was on that day that he went to Toronto to meet with Premier William ‘Bill’ Davis. The premier had asked Jim to the provincial capital to discuss the new issue of acid rain. Hardwycke’s Lagoon in Marmot had been tested by the Ministry of Natural Resources and found a pH level that was off the chart. Acid rain was an issue about which little had been done, and Davis wanted Ontario to be a world leader in the salvation of waterways and lakes. Gilderslieth and Davis hit it off right away, and the premier appointed Jim to the newly formed Acid Rain Sensitivity Seminar of Ontario (A.R.S.S.), joining mayors from Sudbury, Kapuskasing and Thunder Bay with scientists from prominent universities across the province. As Jim would tell it later, it was the bureaucrats that made the A.R.S.S. a real problem for him. They didn’t want to commit to a policy, a thought, or even an idea. They strove to maintain the status quo at all costs.
For the first time in Marmot’s history, a Deputy Mayor had to be appointed, as Gentleman Jim was going to be often on fact-finding missions and round table meetings in Toronto. Hunding Schlussmayer, as retired funeral director was appointed by general acclaim as the deputy mayor by the Council, and he served well. He would be deputy mayor to this day, except for the letter of resignation written by his wife which was accepted by the township with deepest regret. He had been forced to resign because of his death earlier that same week. His elaborate funeral at Ein Feste Burg Lutheran Parish had been attended by all the local who’s who and even the Bishop of the Eastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada was there and delivered a heart-felt benediction.
For Gilderslieth’s part, by the time his deputy resigned, Jim was long off the A.R.S.S. and so he had little practical need for an aide of Hunding’s variety. Schlussmayer’s widow, Herda, had offered to stand in for the deceased but her generous offer was rejected with gratitude for her sense of duty. Even without Hunding, the work of the town went on. A pet project of Jim’s was the cleaning and preservation and reclamation of Hardwycke’s Lagoon.
The contacts Gentleman Jim made on the A.R.S.S. served the town well in finding environmentalists willing to work on this relatively small undertaking. The Marmot Shopper-Express had a banner headline “Gilderslieth’s ARSS Connections Useful to Town”. Naturally, it was taken the wrong way.