The People that Inspire Our Industry

Posted 10th Nov, 2015

by Ace Communications

In a few short months we’ll be gathering once again to celebrate the best of Edmonton’s advertising at our annual ACE Awards.  Although I always look forward for a chance to celebrate our work and enjoy a night of camaraderie (and wine) with our peers, for me the highlight has always been the Fellowship Award. It’s that moment in the show when the work steps aside and we honour the human spirt of our industry. Our Fellowship winners are the ones who have mentored, inspired and pushed the rest of us to do better work. And be better people.

While there are many great fellowship moments, the one that will stay with me forever is the night we honoured Donna James.  Donna James – wife, mother, grandmother, advertising industry icon and ACE Fellowship recipient. For me, she’s the personification of what the Fellowship Award is meant to celebrate.

Donna and Sarah.JPG

I’ve had the privilege to know Donna for more than 25 years. She was one the first people I met in the industry, and was incredibly kind and patient with me back when I was a rookie advertising coordinator at WEM.  She and her husband Keith owned Homestead recorders and patiently walked a new kid on the block through the launch my first radio campaign. It was a kindness I never forgot.

Over the next 25 years, our paths continued to cross – especially when I worked with her daughter Sarah James at DDB.  Sarah is truly a chip off the old block. Whenever Sarah was on the phone with her mom, she’d pass the phone to me and Donna would say “hi sweetie how you doing?” A chat with Donna was like a B12 shot. She was instant sunshine and joy.

Then the news came – Donna had breast cancer. I checked in with Sarah, and to my surprise she was neither sad nor worried. Sarah knew her mom was going to beat this. In fact, anyone who knew Donna knew cancer had picked on the wrong gal.

And beat it she did.  Donna would tell you it was the defining moment in her life. It kick started her activism, from serving as board member and President for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, to serving as the executive director of The Hope Foundation.  Donna is now a member of the steering committee who brought Wellspring Edmonton to life – a place for hope and healing for cancer patients and their families.

The night Donna was awarded the fellowship, well, it’s what you would expect to see in a movie with Meryl Streep as the mom and Gwyneth Paltrow as the daughter.  Out walks Sarah James. Everyone in the room knew what was about to happen, except – ironically – Donna.  And that’s when I began what Oprah calls the “ugly cry.” A daughter honouring her mother not because she got cancer and beat it, but for the grace and determination she demonstrated in helping all those who would someday battle it too. Courage. Determination. Inspiration. She was, and is, everything the ACE Fellowship Award is meant to honour.

When this year’s call for nominations comes out, I want you to stop and look around. Who has changed how you see the world? It doesn’t have to be a former ACE board member or past president, an agency president or a hot shot creative (although it might be and that’s ok too). Ask yourself who has taken the time make our community just a little brighter… Donna James brighter. Why not take a moment to shine the light back on them?


Sonia Piano
ACE Past President


Find out more about the ACE Fellowship Award and nominate someone today!


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