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A Woman for All Seasons

Sandra Manning is a devoted wife and mother, a savvy entrepreneur and a woman of faith.


While working as a business consultant, Preston Manning sensed a growing discontent among fellow Westerners. He decided the time was right to establish a reform movement. In the fall of 1987, the Reform Party's founding assembly was held in Winnipeg. In just 14 years, Preston and his colleagues built a party from nothing to become the official Opposition in Ottawa.

A Woman for All Seasons
Sandra and Preston love horseback riding.

But as everyone knows, behind every good Manning is a good woman. For many years, Sandra Manning partnered with her husband in bringing their political dreams to fruition. She managed the household, raised the children, supported Preston in his political life, ran her own businesses and completed a master's degree in intercultural studies.

How did she do it? "I learned important time management principles: keep organized, keep focused and keep moving. I don't know how else to get all this done and survive."

Today, Sandra runs a real estate business in Calgary and is a partner of Image International, an etiquette and protocol training company for diplomats and top CEOs.

Seeds of faith

Sandra Manning's family ties, religious upbringing and strong personal values have shaped her path. "My values come out of my relationship with Jesus Christ," says Sandra.

"Now that I'm over 60, I have to focus on the things that are really important to me. The time I give my husband, family and other people I come into contact with—that is most rewarding. Every day I ask myself that one simple question: 'What would Jesus do?'"

Sandra discovered faith at a young age through a neighbourhood basement Bible club. "I don't remember who was running it—what church or denomination—but it was my first introduction to spiritual things."

Growing up, her parents were devout members of the United Church, and Sandra sang in the choir and participated in church life. During her last year of high school, she came in contact with people from the Prairie Bible Institute in Alberta.

"I experienced a renewed personal understanding of who Jesus is. All the little seeds of faith that had been planted in that basement Bible club were brought back. I decided to go to Bible college for four years, where my faith became very well-grounded."

Faith and public life

As the wife of a prominent politician, Sandra Manning's public life was directed by that same faith. "I could not privatize my Christian faith and be something else in public. I determined that very early on in 15 years of public life.

"I never tried to hide anything under a bushel. I spoke freely about my relationship with Christ, what made my life tick and where my values came from. I wasn't forceful or abusive about it, I was just totally natural. What you see is what you get. This is how I am.

"My advice to younger women is to know yourself and to be who you are. Be transparent and know your God-given gifts and talents. Learn to discipline yourself. Don't tamper with God's will and purposes for you. Give Christ and His kingdom the first claim on your life, family and resources."

When they are in Calgary, the Mannings attend First Alliance Church. Married for over 38 years, Sandra credits the strength of their relationship to mutual sacrifice and their faith in God.

"The rate of ruined relationship in politics is about 90 percent," Sandra laments. "It is very hard on personal life. We had 20 years of marriage before public life. I was raising five children, most of the time on my own, while Preston was busy with his career.

"We looked to the Lord for wisdom and strength. By God's grace we kept committed to each other. Of course we had to work through some difficult times, especially when Preston came under fire politically. We just had to trust God for the strength and the stamina to go through that together. We had to be extremely patient with each other, and pray for grace—that's what sustained us."

Devoted to family

Since leaving Ottawa the pace of their lives has not changed. "Preston teaches at several universities and works for various 'think tanks.' We are on the move almost constantly," Sandra explains.

"My greatest achievement," says Sandra proudly, "is raising five amazing, God-honouring adults."

Living out of a suitcase can be trying at times. "We haven't put down roots in terms of having our own home for 20 years now. If we stay in the same place for more than three weeks at a time and can take out our toothbrushes and actually put them in a drawer in the bathroom—that is a big deal."

Although work takes them far from home, Preston and Sandra remain deeply devoted to their family. "My greatest achievement," says Sandra proudly, "is raising five amazing, God-honouring adults. When other people go golfing, we 'go family.' Any spare time we have is spent together as a family."

The Mannings have eight grandchildren, all under age six. Their five adult children live and work all over the world. Sandra's parents, now in their 80s, as well as Preston's 93-year-old mother, require 24-hour care.

Sandra credits her parents for their positive influence. Like many parents of her generation, they took a no-nonsense approach. "My mother raised us to hunker down and work without complaining. It's not brilliant time management guru stuff, but it gets the job done."

The sacrifices of starting a political party from scratch have also taken their toll in retirement. "Political life has set us back 25 years financially. But God has directed our journey."

Adventures on horseback

In spite of their busy lifestyle, Sandra and Preston still know how to relax. They love to go on horseback riding trips. "We spend two weeks riding in the mountains. We sleep on horse blankets, wash in mountain streams and eat by the fire.

"Diane, my friend and business partner, and I always laugh about this. She is a perfectly groomed porcelain-doll-type lady, and there is me—a bushwhacker, who would rather be on the back of a horse. I play the rules so well that you would never know, but if you scratch beneath the surface, you will find I can cook a meal over an open fire in the middle of the bush."

Sandra's dreams are ordinary ones. "I'd love to have unhindered time with Preston. This was our dream when we were engaged 38 years ago, but the plans and purposes of God have meant that we've spent a good majority of those years apart. Even now, with opportunities to live in various parts of the country, we'd be excited to do this, except that I need to care for our children and parents. We truly are the 'sandwich generation.'

"We love each other incredibly. We love to spend time together, but we find ourselves still struggling to carve out that dream of togetherness."

Helena Smrcek is a writer based in Milton.

Originally published in Faith & Friends, January 2005.

 

 
 
 
 

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