Our Hazel, our Jo

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.

One thought on “Our Hazel, our Jo

  1. With her permission, here are Cathy Glover’s full remarks about Hazel, the Hazel Gillespie award, and Joanne’s receipt of it:

    1. I first met Hazel during the lead up to the ‘88 Winter Olympics when she was working on the Petro-Canada Torch Relay and I was for the Games Organizing Committee (OCO’88). Our relationship continued over the following 12 years as I worked for several Calgary charities as a fundraiser and Hazel managed community investment for Petro-Canada. When Hazel supported an organization she was all in and brought the support of the whole Petro-Canada organization. When I started as a fundraiser at Children’s Cottage in the mid-90’s the organization was building a new crisis shelter for children with Petro-Canada’s support. Since there was no place for me to work out of yet, Hazel arranged for a PC office for me (and 10,000 copies of the Cookie Cookbook). In addition to the funds and in-kind office space Hazel also supported employee volunteerism at the Cottage, including executive support at the Board. She was there to support me and helped to introduce me to other funders. She was one of the first people to come into the Cottage and celebrate the new facility to support Calgary families.

    When I joined Suncor in 2001 Hazel was the first Community Investment professional to call and congratulate me on my new role. She took me out to lunch the first week. Over the next few years our professional and personal relationship deepened. We often found ourselves having conversations late in the day, after most of the daytime meetings ended and before the evening fundraising events started. We would share our concerns about community issues and strategize ways in which both organizations could help. She was a mentor and a friend and a national leader in the field. She taught me how to balance community needs and business needs. People often think community investment is an easy role – they would often say to me, “you just get to go to the flashy events” or “must be easy to give money away”. But no matter how large or small the budget there is never enough to meet the demand from community organizations or to support all the issues that are of interest to employees or leaders. No matter what decision we would make we never could make everyone happy.

    In the early to mid 2000s our CI roles were shifting. We were becoming less reactive to grant applications and more proactive to find initiatives that would create wins for the company as well as the community. Both Petro-Canada and Suncor were national leaders in this. In 2004 Hazel and I co-hosted Mark Kramer, coauthor of a Harvard Business Review article with Michael Porter about the Competitive Advantage of Corporate Philanthropy in Calgary. We arranged the day so that the morning session included both community fundraisers and Community Investment professionals so that as group we could all discuss the changing roles together. The funder/grantee is a power loaded relationship and we all had to listen to each other as the dynamics were shifting. Both Hazel and I believed in the need for transparent conversation. The afternoon was spent with the CI professionals and the next day Mark split his time between Hazel and her team and our team at Suncor. These discussions led both of our organizations to think differently about how our work added value to the company as well as the community and we both began to shift our strategies.

    In the mid-2000s Hazel had her second successful battle with breast cancer. As the merger was announced, my biggest fear was that the stress would impact her health once again. Ten years my senior, Hazel declared that she wanted to retire and cuddle babies, and that allowed us to work together more closely than our peers as we began the tough work of bringing the two programs together. We were friends and colleagues and committed to making it as easy as possible for our teams and the community. We had the same values about community and were committed to having as minimal impact as possible. We co-ordinated communications to our respective community partners and had informed everyone by the end of the first day.

    As the dust settled, we were excited to welcome Joanne Manser to the Suncor Energy Foundation team. She played a critical role in helping us through the transition and in supporting our role in hosting at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. As we began to merge the two CI programs together, I began to see how the structure of our organizations differentiated the way we were working with community organizations. We had both taken the lessons from Kramer and Porter, but had implemented them differently. With a business to consumer relationship -with Petro-Canada stations all across the country-brand recognition was a critical component of PC’s major partnerships. Funding was significant, as was employee involvement, in a few significant relationships, including some significant Calgary events. Without the customer relationship and working through the Suncor Energy Foundation, there was less focus on naming and branding, more support to local communities of operation- like Fort McMurray- and a willingness to support administrative and collaborative efforts rather that specific programs.

    In the end, we found a new strategy and new way of working that took the best of both programs. We were one of the first business organizations to truly merge and become something new. We successfully transitioned with as minimal impact to community organizations as possible – because underneath it all Hazel had mentored me and we had had lots of conversations about the relationship between corporate funders and community organizations. As we moved forward, I strongly felt that it was my responsibility to continue her legacy and leadership and often found myself asking “What would Hazel do?”

    One of the last projects Hazel worked on was the Olympic Totem Pole. Carved by Klatle-Bhi it was commissioned to be brought to Calgary to sit beside the Torch Relay bronze in the building’s lobby after the Games. When we were getting ready for the transfer to Calgary Klatle-Bhi told me that he had thought of Hazel as he carved the frog at the bottom of the pole and he painted it a different colour in recognition of her. The frog is often recognized for its ability to adapt to two different worlds- to understand both. Every time I walk through the lobby I am reminded of her.

    Unfortunately my worst fears were realized and not long after retiring and moving into her beautiful new home, Hazel’s cancer returned for the final time. As a community of CI professionals and community fundraisers we rallied around her to support her through this battle. It was a testament to her leadership how we were able to come together – she was part of both communities and respected and loved by both. During Hazel’s last Christmas she wasn’t able to get out to concerts or to see Theatre Calgary’s A Christmas Carol. So a group of us decided we would go once a week to sing Christmas carols outside her door. At a Hull Christmas event I shared with our friend Tom Jackson that Hazel was ill and that a few of us were going over to sing. He asked when and told me if he could work it in before his Huron Carole show he would be there. As so he did. We had a memorable evening when a handful of funders and fundraisers were joined by Tom and his guitar to sing carols to our friend who was too ill to come to the door.

    There haven’t been very many days that go by that I don’t think of Hazel. I was trusted with her legacy and I hope I did her proud and that the SEF team continues to do so.

    2). When a group of community fund development professionals and Community Investment peers approached me about creating an award in Hazel’s name I was pleased to be an early contributor. As a local and national leader Hazel set the bar high. The award recognizes her values of giving back, continuous learning and mentorship. The fact that the award is given during AFP’s Philanthropy week is also significant. Funders and Fundraisers are two sides of the same coin. Both roles are supporting community initiatives and often deal with complex issues. Often, even though the project is significant, as funders we have to decline to support for a number of reasons. This can create bitter feelings – but Hazel always demonstrated how much she valued the work that both professionals were doing and as a result was respected by both groups.

    3) As Hazel retired she was most concerned about her team and Joanne particular. Jo had transitioned from an assistant role to one of Petro-Canada’s senior executives to work on Hazel’s team. As a young professional she was learning the role from Canada’s top CI leader. It didn’t take long for Jo, with her wonderful laugh and positive attitude to become a critical member of the new team. We expected a lot of her and pushed her into new roles. Hazel had seen her potential and started her off and I certainly felt a commitment to Hazel to make sure Jo succeeded. However, it didn’t take long for that not to matter – Jo blossomed in her new role with greater and greater responsibility. I watched her move from someone who was working the process to someone who was designing it. As she became more experienced she was able to work with employees and leaders across the company and has almost single handedly revised the employee program. The SunCares program supports all employees and retirees and is managed by Joanne. She has worked to open the program to support the interests of all employees in a fair and equitable way and created new teams to help support our local communities.

    I am incredibly proud of the leader in this field that she has become. She is now an expert in employee granting programs and shares her expertise with others starting or revising their programs. Like Hazel she is a passionate volunteer (although dogs rather than babies are her preferred focus). Her outgoing personality belies her incredible organizational skills and attention to detail and her patience to deal with the multitude of questions (especially from us retirees) make her ideal for this work.

    I am so proud of Joanne and I know without a doubt that Hazel would be too. For Joanne to be recognized with the Hazel Gillespie award closes a circle in a way. Hazel didn’t have the opportunity to further mentor Jo and see her develop into the accomplished professional leader she is – but this award in Hazel’s memory is a way of allowing Hazel to recognize Joanne’s accomplishments, as much as all of us at Suncor do. They have both made incredible contributions to community and the company and I’m so privileged to have been able to know and work with both of them.

    Cathy Glover

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