Saturday, February 20, 2010

Lois and Lieutenant Governor Bid Farewell

Calgary’s Salute to Excellence

At the gates to Stampede Park, guests were asked, “Who sent ‘ya?” Upon replying, “Al Capone” they were shown a parking space and guided to the entrance of BMO Centre. A Calgary Flames hockey game was in full force in the Saddledome next door, and guests passed through the
twisting hallways of BMO Centre, past an adjacent RV Show on their way. Though unintentional, the scene did feel reminiscent of a hidden speakeasy. Who would suspect a swinging black-tie function would be right around that motor home?

At the entrance to the main hall, actors dressed as Al Capone, his cronies, and a picketing temperance society mingled. Faux cops with billy clubs and moustaches roamed through the hall. Guests arrived in flapper outfits: headbands, layered, straight-line dresses, and top
hats. It was all part of the Chamber of Commerce’s annual theme gala. This year, it was called Prohibit This! Last year’s theme was disco.

Despite the levity of the evening, it was an emotional affair. The annual ‘Salute to Excellence’ is also a time for the chair of the Chamber to pass the gavel to a successor. In this case, the vivacious and popular Lois Mitchell stepped aside to welcome Simon Vincent. It was also the final gala for Lt. Gov. Normal Kwong, who is retiring this year. Heather Douglas, the president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, also spoke.

Noting the 1930's theme, all three made mention of the past year's accomplishments. For Kwong, 1929 holds a special significant because it was his birth year. For Douglas, this has been a year to overcome the challenges of a serious spinal surgery and a rocky financial foundation for small business. She also mentioned sponsoring George W. Bush's trip to the city as one of the Chamber's highlights - love him or hate him. For Mitchell, it was an emotional event because she was stepping down as chair, and received special congratulations from her husband, Doug Mitchell, who is also a past Chair of the Chamber.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

PSAC raises $4.1 million for charity

STARS earns their spurs

Everyone loves Western wear ... at least in Calgary. That’s according to Debra McAdam, a communications consultant originally from Vancouver, and Elizabeth Aquin, the senior vice-president of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC). And they should know. The two women were driving forces behind the sixteenth annual STARS & Spurs gala.

The gala evening took place at the BMO Centre on the Stampede grounds. Guests were invited to wear their best Western attire, and they did. There was a hat-shaping station next to the giant milk can where raffle tickets were dropped. A lone fiddle player welcomed guests into the massive room.

Once inside, attendees meandered through a silent auction. Prizes included: a romantic weekend for two at the Fairmont Banff Springs or the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise, a sightseeing tour in a Cassna 182 airplane, ballet tickets, priceless works of art, and frozen semen for thoroughbred stallion breeding. There was a live auction, too, where a Team Canada Hockey Jersey (signed by Sidney Crosby), and a golf trip for two to Fox Harbour Resort in Nova Scotia were the first to go.

Over the past sixteen years, PSAC has raised $4.1 million dollars for the charity, STARS. Founded in 1985, the Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society has a base of operations in Calgary, Edmonton, and Grand Prairie. It is a non-profit charity. STARS provides emergency air lift and medical procedures, employing a team of high trained and specialized doctors, nurses, pilots and others. They also provide emergency fire dispatch, and are available twenty-four hours a day to labourers in remote areas – a facet of their work of particular interest to PSAC.

Elizabeth Aquin explains that many PSAC employees work in remote and dangerous territory, where traditional forms of emergency support are unable to reach them.

At the gala also was one of the STARS helicopters, and a virtual training machine. It is a tricky business, landing a helicopter in a heavy fog or woods or on a mountain top, and then treating a patient in the cramped space while the machine rolls and pitches toward a hospital.

A three course meal was served. The entree was Alberta prime rib beef with Burgundy wine and shallots. For desert, a large chocolate ganache cake was brought to every table with sparklers on top. The occasion was also celebrating the 25th anniversary of STARS. In keeping with the theme, each guest was given either a bolo tie or a red lace garter belt with mini-pistol with their place setting. Aquin and McAdam said they tried skipping the Western theme one year and it just didn’t work. People like it and feel comfortable in their boots, they said. Canadian country music singer Jessie Farrell provided the entertainment.

Other guests included The Honourable Ron Liepert, formerly the Minister of Health before a shuffle landed him as Minister of Energy just one week before the gala, Dr. Gregory Powell, a founder of STARS who was recently appointed a member to the Order of Canada, Al Buchignani, the former executive vice president of ENMAX and current chair of the STARS board, and Roger Soucy, president of PSAC.

Published in National Post, February 13, 2010

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bill Brooks Gala Shares the Love

The Bill Brooks Gala has been called the hottest ticket in town for years. This year, though, it surpassed all expectations.

A fundraiser for prostate cancer, the party overtook the chic Hotel Arts. A live band got people on their feet early, and kept them swinging late into the night. Hor’s d’oeuvres were plentiful and included mini duck confit sandwiches, sushi, and lamb chops. The theme – “love the glove” – inspired some colourful fashion accessories. Otherwise decked out in black tie, guests were seen in boxing gloves, Olympic mittens, and even an “Edward Scissor hands” type costume.

What really had people talking, though, was the amount of money Bill Brooks raised for his cause. Despite the recession, the gala received its highest levels of corporate sponsorship and its largest number of ticket sales this year. In sum, the evening raised $570 000, all of it to be donated to the Southern Alberta Institute of Urology.

The institute is expected to open next month in Calgary. It will have been built entirely on community fundraising projects, like this gala, which together have totalled close to $30 million. Other donors include the University of Calgary, the Calgary Health Region, Betty and Sam Switzer Foundation, the Flames Foundation for Life, and the Rotary Clubs of Calgary.

The Southern Alberta Institute of Urology will research, treat and diagnose illness related to the urinary tract. That includes kidney stones, sexual health, and all kinds of cancer, particularly prostate and kidney cancers.

Bill Brooks, a notorious socialite and popular media personality in Calgary, began this event after losing an uncle to prostate cancer twenty years ago. According to many guests at his party, he has a knack for drawing people into his crusade.

Irene Price, president of West Canadian Direct Marketing Services, says her company receives thousands of requests for sponsorship. The cause is a personal one for executives at her firm, who were happy to support it. But she says it was Brooks himself who earned the sponsorship.

“He called me up and was so nice, and so sincere, I just wanted to help him!” she explained.

Other sponsors of the event included Safeway, who provided a re-useable grocery bag full of prostate-friendly food to each of the six hundred and seventy-five guests.

Spotted at the soiree were Rob Mabee, owner of Axis Art Gallery, and pal Eileen Stan, radio talk show host Dave Rutherford, designer and host of City TV’s My Rona Home Aly Velji with partner Jason Krell, a public relations guru, the vice-president of Hotel Arts Mark Wilson, and gala co-chair Larry Clausen, who is also the vice-president of Cohn & Wolfe for Western Canada.

Published in National Post, February 6 2010