Bluenoser retires after three decades of serving her country

    SUMMERVILLE CENTRE, QUEENS COUNTY: As she retires from the diplomatic corps after a nearly three-decade career in outposts around the world, most recently as Canada’s ambassador to Jordan, Donica Pottie is mulling her next move.

    “I’m going to take a bit of time and figure out what I would like to do with the rest of my life,” Pottie tells The Reporter from her cottage-turned-full-time home in Summerville Centre. “I’m glad to be back in Nova Scotia. That was always the plan, to come home.”

    Pottie says she’s giving herself until after Christmas to decide after a tiring two years struggling to ensure her large embassy staff and contract workers were safe amid the COVID pandemic.

    “It’s easy to forget how many unknowns there were at the beginning of the pandemic,” she says. “It was such a dominant aspect of my work.”

    The embassy, large for a Canadian one, but small by American standards, has a staff of nearly 100, plus another 40 “dependents,” which would include guards and cleaning staff.

    At first, Jordan approved vaccines that weren’t OK’d by Health Canada, so Pottie couldn’t advise staff to get them. And, like most countries, Jordan began vaccinating older and immunocompromised people first, so younger staff were left waiting as the pandemic raged.

    Eventually, with the help of the Canadian Armed Forces, Global Affairs Canada brought vaccines in for the embassy. “You just don’t sneak these things in in your briefcase,” says Pottie. “You get permission to bring them and do it all above board. Jordan was really great about registering our vaccinations in their system to get QR codes and have them recognized.”

    By the time the vaccines arrived, Pottie, 60, and many other older embassy staff were already vaccinated, so they helped manage the vaccine process. “It was thrilling to watch people get vaccinated to know they would be safer at the end of that,” she says.

    Pottie moved back home at the end of summer and spent the next several weeks helping Global Affairs Canada with the promotion process for foreign affairs recruits to the executive level before she officially exited the diplomatic corps two months ago.

    “Doing this kind of corporate task has been a nice segue into retirement,” she says. “It’s a very clear task. It’s not like being an ambassador where there’s many different things to do on different files.”

    Pottie is enjoying the ability to spend more time with her father, David Pottie, a retired superintendent of schools whose early career saw the family move around to Stellarton, New Glasgow, New Germany and Bridgewater.

    “My father believes that I won’t just simply be able to retire,” says Pottie. “I haven’t had time to focus on that aspect. I was really focused on finishing my assignment, making sure that everything was ready for my replacement to come in and hit the ground running.”

    Pottie’s husband, Manitoba-born Scot Slessor, retired six years ago from his career in the foreign service and has turned his stained-glass hobby into a business with a storefront in Liverpool.

    The two met in China as students in an exchange program offered through Saint Mary’s University. They have one child who was born in Jordan when Pottie was first posted there in 1999 and graduated from SMU in 2020.

    One of the challenges of being a foreign service career couple (Pottie’s husband was consul general to India and deputy head in Kabul, Afghanistan, while she did stints in Ottawa, China, Cambodia and Thailand) is “finding ways to make it work,” she says. “In China, which was my first assignment, he wasn’t yet inside the department, so he found work running a Canadian development fund for the embassy. When he went to India, I took leave from my job. We just kind of balanced it out.”

    The couple bought their Summerville Centre cottage almost 20 years ago with the intention of retiring there. “To make it more like a home and less like a place to just come to flop down we had to make a few changes to modernize it,” she says. “We renovated the kitchen, for example.”

    Pottie held the ambassador role three times: first in Cambodia from 2004 to 2007, then in Thailand from 2016 to 2019 and Jordan from 2019 to 2022. “Professionally, it’s a real privilege and a challenge to be an ambassador and to represent Canada abroad in that way at that upper echelon,” she says.

    She also served as director general for Canada’s consular operations. “I felt strongly that Canada provides the best consular service of any nation in the world,” she says.

    Asked about career highlights, the feminist and human rights activist says there are plenty she wouldn’t feel comfortable discussing because of the privacy aspects associated with helping Canadian citizens.

    Assignments put her on the ground for historic events. “In Cambodia, when King Sihanouk abdicated, and his son was named king I was there for all of that transition,” she says. “In Thailand, I was there when King Bhumibol died after 70 years on the throne … and for the ceremonies to coronate his son.”

    While she’s lived in many places throughout the world and across Nova Scotia, Queens County is home, she says.”Where I am now is where my both my parents are from and where my grandparents all were.”