Shell Busey’s solution for slowing down may be to toss his hat into B.C.’s political ring again. “I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe that’s my ‘out’; my way out of the office I go to seven days a week,” says Shell.
Being Canada’s favourite home handyman for 45 years has kept Shell very busy. For 25 of those years, he has been the voice and face Canadians have relied on for home repair and renovation advice, on such radio shows as *Home Discovery* and *Home Ideas*, and on TV’s *Home Check* program.
Shell made a quick venture into politics, serving two terms as Alderman for the municipality of Delta in the late ‘80s. In 1989, he stepped out of politics to become the spokesperson for BC Hydro’s Power Smart Program.
“One of the stipulations of accepting the position was that I would have to resign from being Alderman because of the conflict of interest,” he says. “But I have looked very seriously at going back into local politics. It would be my out, because I would never be able to disappear entirely. People would still catch me in the street.”
Acquiring his wealth of knowledge about the home improvement industry began when Shell was young. Born in Owen Sound, Ontario, Shell says his father was the helpful local carpenter. “If someone needed a new porch, he would build it for them,” says Shell. “And I would go and help Dad, so I was gaining my experience from him as well.”
From an early age, Shell knew what he did and didn’t want to do when he grew up. “I was always one who wanted to help people,” says Shell. “I wasn’t a bad student. I was just really more interested in working with my hands than working in physics, or typing or any of that. I was more of the ‘shops’ sort of guy.”
Shell credits his high school guidance teacher for encouraging his career. “The guidance teacher, back in those days, would see your interests, work with you and try to groom those interests,” says Shell. “Woodworking was one of mine and auto mechanics was another one.”
Educated in a vocational school, at age 18, Shell was offered a job at a local Beaver Lumber store, beginning a relationship that would last more than 15 years and take him to several cities across Ontario.
“During that same year, I married my wife, Frankie,” says Shell. “She’s always been the administrator and accountant for us. She controls the purse strings.”
Shell and Frankie had two daughters during his busy time transferring around Ontario, from 1968 to 1974 - one was born in Sault Ste. Marie and one in Windsor.
In 1974, Shell moved to B.C. to supervise the opening of a group of Saveway stores, an arm of Beaver Lumber. In 1976, he was offered the opportunity to move his family to Whitehorse to assist in establishing the first Yukon-based Beaver Lumber franchise.
“When they told me it was in Whitehorse, I said, ‘You mean White Rock, don’t you?’” says Shell. It didn’t take long before he and his young family realized the north was not the best place for them.
“It got to the point where it was going to be [inconvenient] to bring two young girls up in a northern community,” says Shell. “Once they’d finish their secondary schooling, they’d have to [move away] for college or university.” Shell decided to turn the store over to a franchisee and brought his family back to the B.C. coast.
After leaving Beaver Lumber, Shell and his wife bought a Windsor Plywood franchise in North Delta and later opened their own niche store, Ye Olde Hardware Store, in Surrey. In 1983, after being a guest on Raif Mair’s radio program, Shell began hosting his own home improvement radio show on Vancouver’s CJOR.
For over a decade, from 1990 to 2000, Shell hosted the *Home Ideas Show* on radio station CKNW, sponsored by BC Hydro. In 2000, it became the *Home Discovery Show*, sponsored by Cloverdale Paint.
When he’s not giving advice to listeners over the airwaves, Shell is busy managing the HouseSmart Referral Network, a one-stop home improvement referral program he initiated 12 years ago. “The radio experience brought so many people calling in for referrals,” says Shell. “I still return 30 to 40 calls a day after the radio show is over.”
At 66, Shell talks about slowing down from his five days a week in the office and two days on-air. “It becomes more difficult to cope with some of the things people expect of you,” he says. Six years ago, Shell hired “a very well-educated young man” as his general manager and partner to help lessen the workload.
Shell thinks his audiences often don’t realize he is a senior himself. “I have many people phone me up on the radio program and say, ‘I don’t have a lot of money. I’m a senior,’” says Shell. “And I’ll say, ‘Well, join the club. So am I.’ A lot of people haven’t seen my face, because the program is broadcast from here right across western Canada.”
Even though he’s been a household name for years, Shell thinks people would be surprised to know how important family is to him. “My wife and I are married 44 years and she has always been my mentor,” he says.
In his spare time, Shell would rather be fishing, preferably on the west coast of Vancouver Island or up in the Queen Charlotte Islands. “When I go fishing, I go from 5 a.m. until dark,” he says.
Shell says his busy schedule limits his fishing to twice a year and this season’s trip is very dear to his heart. “I’ll be taking my oldest grandson, who’s eight, with me for the first time.”
When the time comes for his two grandsons to choose a career, Shell says he won’t push them to follow in his footsteps. “I’ll certainly never suggest they get into the building industry,” he says. “My mom and dad didn’t decide to put me into it. That was something I wanted to do.”
Becoming a senior wasn’t difficult for Shell, who says he faces life as it unfolds. “We have not created decision-makers below us, in the next [generation],” he says. “Just because we are in that senior age doesn’t mean we no longer make the decisions. We are the leaders of our own destiny and if there’s something to be done, we have to make those choices.”
Looking back at almost half a century in the home improvement industry, Shell is happy with the choices he’s made. “I could have done something else,” he says, “but I’ve just had a great time doing what I’m doing and making a living at it.”
JULY 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER
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