By Kelly Putter
She can sing, smile and glad-hand with the best of them – and the thing about Judy Marsales is you’re never aware that she’s selling herself.
She’s not overly smooth or suave, but her warmth and obvious love of people radiate from those bright eyes and that hearty, engaging laugh. Is she selling herself? You bet: through a thriving Hamilton real estate business, through sing-a-long nights she hosts, through a four-year stint in provincial politics and as a long-time community booster.
But her causes, callings and pastimes are bona fide. She L-O-V-Es them in capital letters. That they happen to put her in the public eye is part of the fun. She’s the real deal, or as one friend describes her talk-to-anyone-and-everyone nature, “She’s just Judy from the block.”
A dynamo in Hamilton real estate since the early 1980s, Marsales entered the industry when men ruled the market. In fact, when she went for her interview at Lounsbury Realty they told her she was too young and the wrong gender. “But I talked them into it,” says Marsales. “That was my first sales job – talking them into it.” Within a few years, she was hitting marks as one of the top sales reps in Hamilton.
“I loved real estate from the minute I walked into it,” says Marsales, who is now in her late 50s. “I was like a duck to water with it. I love the people aspect. I could work as hard or as long as I wanted and my remuneration would follow that. It was almost as if I was being rewarded for my hard work finally.”
She managed to build a healthy clientele and by 1988 decided it was time to strike out on her own. Marsales would eventually become the first woman president of the Metropolitan Hamilton Real Estate Board and hold leadership positions within various business and community organizations. Today, 52 salespeople work out of Marsales’ three offices in Ancaster, Westdale and on Locke Street.
A former part-time adult education teacher for the Hamilton school board, Marsales taught business courses such as typing, resume writing and bookkeeping before having two daughters in the 1970s. But something about real estate kept pulling her in. Marsales opened her first office on Westdale with the help of Linda Bryant, “an amazing organizer” and within a week the office grew to 10 staffers. In 1995, she opened her second office and her third in 2007.
“As much as I appreciate the exposure, I want the world to know how much I value the people I work with,” Marsales says. “I’m not an island. The secret of my success is the people I work with, without a doubt. I may have the passion and the energy but they have talent and they’re good, good people. We have the same view in terms of integrity, hard work and determination.”
The grandmother of three kids under five has been an outspoken champion for the city of Hamilton as the president of the Hamilton and District Chamber of Commerce in 1996 and as past president of the Business Executives Organization, and has served on a long list of community boards and associations. Once a month, Marsales hosts her own radio show, Sold on Hamilton, which highlights some of the city’s community supporters, musicians and innovations.
A native of Winnipeg, her passion for Hamilton led her to Queen’s Park, where the card-carrying Liberal decided to put her “time where her mouth is.” In 2003, she became an MPP representing the former riding of Hamilton West.
“My chief focus was to have Hamilton recognized as a potential economic engine of this province and I think some of my hard work is coming to fruition now,” says Marsales. “I hope I contributed to some small degree to opening up a new view of Hamilton.”
Despite her love of public life, Marsales opted not to seek re-election in 2007 because her involvement had come at a high cost both professionally and personally, the details of which Marsales prefers not to disclose.
A lifelong musical activist – with a penchant for rock and classical opera – Marsales has been hosting interactive sing-a-longs in clubs and bars and at fundraisers in and around Hamilton for 20 years. These Wednesday night sing-a-longs at the Coach & Lantern in Ancaster now include Grant Avenue studio owner Bob Doidge, who plays bass. Mike McCurlie is normally on guitar although this night multiple Canadian Country Music Award winner Wendall Ferguson is filling in, former Powerhouse member Vince Rinaldo is on keyboards and CHCH weatherman Steve Ruddick plays drums. The group is known as Judy and the Noteworthies.
Marsales admits that growing up in a house with little money limited her musical aspirations, but in typical form she managed to rise to the challenge regardless.
“At an early age I decided I had to figure this out so I went to the library and got a book on pianos and I made myself a paper piano. And then I would sneak into the YMCA and they had a piano in the basement and no one ever kicked me out and I used to practice my fingering from my book on the piano.”
The pub is generally packed during the sing-a-longs. Marsales always opens the show by singing, appropriately, Cabaret. The music runs the gamut and it’s clear the audience of mainly baby boomers and seniors is charged as they beat the dollar-store tambourines they’ve been loaned for the evening. One vocalist, a long-haired rocker-looking dude, gets up and kills with his rendition of These Boots Are Made for Walking. Hamilton broadcaster Mark Hebscher starts off the night with a lively rendition of Elvis Presley’s Little Sister. When Marsales gets up to sing When I Saw Her Standing There, the crowd erupts and people jump to their feet to dance wherever they can find some space.
“I try to make it non-threatening,” Marsales says a few days later. “Singing at a mic is one of the most unnerving experiences you can have. My tagline is, it’s a party you don’t have to clean up from.”