I’d like to say a fond farewell to four wonderful women who had a great impact on my life, and whose loss in 2016 touched me deeply.

Sandi Ross (1949-August 31, 2016) 

Sandi was an actor, activist and force of nature. She was an early leading champion of diversity on stage and screen; an untiring proponent of “non-traditional casting” (and it really was non-traditional at the time) and the founder and producer of the first national casting directory of visible and audible minorities. We collaborated often and joyfully around the Toronto Theatre Alliance’s Cross Cultural Caucus. She was an exceptional actor on stage, T.V. and screen; one of the founding members of Obsidian Theatre; and the first woman and first person of colour to be elected president of ACTRA Toronto. Her beautiful rumbling laughter could fill a room, and one of Sandi’s hugs would warm you for days.

Marjorie Sharpe (1931-June 13, 2016)

Marjorie was the first, the very first, funder of Creative Trust: Working Capital for the Arts, using her small discretionary budget as President and CEO of the Toronto Community Foundation to help fund a feasibility study for a new venture in sustaining mid-sized creative music, theatre and dance companies. She was intellectually curious, trusting and warmly supportive – and delighted by Creative Trust’s eventual success. Many years later we were honoured to be included in her wise and invaluable book Governing with Soul (written when she was 79 – setting a high, high bar for non-profit career achievement!)

“Marjorie Sharpe’s new book about compassion, caring – and, yes, soul – as a factor in how boards work brings a new vocabulary and an interesting new perspective to the topic of good governance…It is a deeply felt, values and vision based approach…with an emphasis on respect, fulfillment, compassion and shared values.”

Sudha Khandwani (1933-November 3, 2016) 

Sudha was a pioneering producer and promoter of Indian dance in Canada, artistic director of the Kalanidhi Fine Arts festival, member of a close and accomplished family (Menaka Thakkar was her sister), and leading light of Toronto’s dance community. She was also one of the finest collaborators I’ve ever worked with, a calm, generous and delightful partner when Toronto Dance Theatre had the honour of helping host dynamic dance legend Chandralekha’s only tour of Canada. I loved hearing her voice on the phone as we dealt with the sometimes complicated details of the tour (which included Chandralekha setting a dance on the TDT company) – and seeing her in person was always a joy. (Here is a link to the beautiful memorial presented by her family and friends )

Joan Chalmers (1928-December 2, 2016) 

I was much too in awe of Joan Chalmers to claim her as a personal friend, but she was a huge presence and unmatched example of fierce and indomitable support for the arts. The Chalmers Awards for Creativity and Excellence in the Arts had extraordinary impact on the national arts scene. Toronto Dance Theatre was one of the 21 totally surprised and immensely grateful recipients of Joan’s generosity on her 70th birthday in May, 1998. “In 17 minutes, she gave away $1-million. The unwary recipients were gobsmacked and profoundly grateful for this reverse birthday gift. As they thanked her, Ms. Chalmers smiled through her tears.” It was an unforgettable lesson in the joy of giving.

I will also always be grateful for Joan’s founding of the M. JOAN CHALMERS NATIONAL AWARD FOR ARTS ADMINISTRATION – shining a light on some of the cultural sector’s most creative and talented, but too often unacknowledged, professionals. Four of my very best friends received that honour between 1995 and 2001, its final year.

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