I’m unsure about ghosts. Do they exist? Maybe. Do they not exist? Maybe.
But I do romanticize connections — or what some people might call coincidences.
A couple of years ago, for example, I was meant to be on vacation but was instead overthinking and over-worrying a work problem. While I was fussing, I set my phone to play music on shuffle. From more than 4,000 options, the song that came on was Into the Mystic.
I don’t let myself listen to that song often because it makes me too sad. It was one of the key songs from the funeral of one of my mentors, Hazel Gillespie. But in that moment, I took the song as a sign. One of the last conversations we had before Hazel died of cancer was mostly a lecture. She told me about things she would have done differently, and tried to warn me off following her tendency to focus too much on work. And so, when I heard the opening notes of that song, I smiled and went back to my vacation.
I had no idea when I first began working with Hazel in 2004 – nor when she later brought me along to a workshop co-hosted with her counterpart at Suncor – that I would one day be using the same principles discussed at that workshop, working in a similar job.
Hazel was also the first person in my professional life who showed me how it felt to be fully seen at work, and the first person who showed me that it was okay to genuinely care about your colleagues. She was also the first person who made me realize that disappointing someone at work could feel just as crushing as disappointing someone at home. (Hazel was not, however, the first or last person to be disappointed that I’m not always very good at choosing when to be sarcastic.)
I’m not the only one with admiration for Hazel. I’ve lost track of the number of people who sigh when her name comes up in conversation and say, “Oh Hazel. I loved Hazel.”
People loved her enough that in late 2008, they began fundraising to create an award in her name. It’s this award that I want to write about today. I wrote the story below on the same topic, and it was originally posted on the intranet at my work.
This year, the award in Hazel’s name has gone to my friend Joanne. I’ve worked with Jo for many years, and more closely in the last two. She’s positive, enthusiastic, and loyal. She mixes humility with having clear opinions – which makes her capable of adjusting her conclusions after hearing another perspective. She’s been there for me when it comes to work frustrations, family changes, dating disasters, and so on. And, like Hazel, she’s occasionally had to point out when I’ve overstepped with the sarcasm.
For many reasons more important than being my friend, Joanne deserves this award.
That said, I’ve procrastinated on writing this post. While I hesitated to write my last blog post because I was worried what some people might say, I hesitated this time out of worry that I wouldn’t be able to do justice to either person. And I probably haven’t.
But if you have time, take a peek at the story below. And whether or not you know Hazel or Jo, perhaps think about the people who have shaped your life and your career – and the beautiful coincidences that might remind you to give thanks to these folks for their gifts. If nothing else, “Smell the sea and feel the sky / Let your soul and spirit fly into the mystic.”
CI Employee Wins Hazel Gillespie Award
It’s a blessing to have a mentor, and an honour to win an award, but the appreciation that comes with winning an award named after your mentor is indescribable. Just ask Joanne Manser, senior advisor, community investment, andthe 2020 recipient of the Hazel Gillespie Community Investment Leadership Award.
Joanne started working for Petro-Canada in 2005 in Communications, when Hazel Gillespie was the company’s director of community investment. It didn’t take Hazel long to notice Joanne’s potential for making an impact in the company and community. Joanne then joined the Community Investment (CI) team, which she has been a part of ever since.
In 2008, people from the community investment, fundraising, and non-profit sectors developed an award to recognize characteristics Hazel demonstrated: generosity, strategic thinking and commitment. Sadly, Hazel passed away from cancer in 2012, but served on the award’s selection committee before her death. The committee continues to review nominations annually.
This year’s nominees were a high-calibre group to assess. As the selection committee narrowed their choices, one committee member remarked that she couldn’t believe Joanne hadn’t won already. This was partly a case of Joanne having spent so much time on the committee herself. That commitment was deemed a “very Hazel thing to do” and became one of the factors that ultimately led the committee to choose Joanne.
“I clearly remember the event where we came together to celebrate Hazel and the creation of this award. If you were to tell me then that I would become a future recipient, I’d have had a hard time believing you. How could I ever be compared to Hazel and her legacy?” asks Joanne. “When I reflect on my career, Hazel is a constant thread. She showed me what it means to work with and alongside community, and I will be forever grateful that she took a chance on me – leading to the relationships and lifelong friendships I have within my work today.”
When the award launched in 2009, an article in the company newsletter remarked that the way a company invests in communities and the impact of those investments depends on the skill, strategy and heart of CI professionals. From that publication through to today – from Hazel to Joanne – that sentiment holds true.
“It didn’t take long for Jo to become a critical member of our new team after the merger,” says Cathy Glover, retired director of community investment. “I watched her move from someone who was working the process to someone designing it. I am incredibly proud of the leader she has become.”
In reference to SunCares, Joanne’s nomination highlighted that she worked to understand what’s important to employees. “Working with others, she focused on surfacing tensions with the historical program to better understand employee motivations, touchpoints, emotional responses, and opportunities,” says Kim Nordbye, manager, Suncor Energy Foundation and community investment. “The result is an international program strategically aligned to Suncor’s purpose and values, providing flexibility and choice.”
Typically, Joanne would receive her award at the Association of Fundraising Professional’s (AFP) Generosity of Spirit ceremony. However, like many events in 2020, the ceremony has been postponed. For now, AFP has been celebrating philanthropy on Twitter and Facebook, using the hashtag #AFPCalgaryhereandnow.
This award for Joanne as a Suncor representative follows the 2019 celebration where Suncor was named Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist.