Much has been written over the past few days about the sudden death of Donna Messer. On April 3rd, Canada lost a woman who was known across the country as the “Queen of Networking” and there has been an outpouring of love as people share their stories of how she helped them.
I only wish Donna could have witnessed how much of an impact she’d had on people’s lives.
I first met Donna over twenty years ago. She had been speaking at a board of trade event, sharing her story of how she started Orange Crate, a company she successfully ran for ten years and I went to introduce myself after her talk. We stayed connected, as you do with Donna, and over the years, our paths would frequently cross.
But it was when I was working for government, that I first saw the power of Donna’s networking in action. At the time I was running a program called Words on Work, where successful women would come into the classroom to share their career paths with female high school students. Naturally Donna was quick to sign up and when we were at a conference in Stratford, where she was speaking, she “planted” her introduction of me to the audience, helping me recruit more women to my program.
That’s what Donna did. If she believed in you and what you were doing, she’d go out of her way to make sure you met who you needed to meet. She was like a walking rolodex with all the people she knew, always making the introductions to help you get ahead.
One of the best connections she made for me was when she introduced me to Jean Price, one of her closest friends, who fast became one of mine. It is those friendships in life that we hold dear, because no matter how far away you may live, you just know the other person will be there for you.
And Donna was there for so many people – she was always supporting the underdog whether it was the immigrant doctor who was driving a taxi or the new entrepreneur shakily starting her business.
She was outspoken and quick to put you right if, in her opinion, you did something wrong. I remember being told off when I forgot to bring my business cards to an event she was hosting, you can imagine her horror.J
The last time I saw Donna was on International Women’s Day on March 8 when she was receiving an award. How fitting. I am so pleased that she was being honoured for all that she had done to help women get ahead in life.
Just ten days later, she was given the devastating news of her cancer, news she wanted to keep private and so we respected her wishes. Today I know people are reeling in shock. Even those of us who knew her dire prognosis, never believed she would be taken from us so soon.
For the past eight years, Donna has been a permanent fixture at my conference. Always a popular speaker, she attracted many of her fans to come hear her speak. She was scheduled to speak this year, so it will be strange for her not to be with us on May 26, but I know she will be there in spirit, encouraging us to reach out and support one another.