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May. 28, 2022 | Saturday
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Donna Scott: Bringing a lifetime of experience to our town
In 2017, as an Officer of the Order of Canada, Donna Scott was invited to attend a special celebration of the country’s 150thbirthday at Rideau Hall, in Ottawa. Pictured with Scott are Nadja Lepere, left, a great friend from town, and Gov. Gen. Julie Payette. (Supplied)

Donna Scott has flare, just like the magazine she founded 40 years ago. Her eyes sparkle. She’s quick to smile, a constant chuckle in her voice.

Flaremagazine was Scott’s brainchild, the first major publication serving Canada’s national fashion scene.

At the time, Scott was a rising star in the publishing world. She was the first woman to reach the senior echelons of publishing giant, MacLean-Hunter. She was what her Order of Canada citation called “a successful entrepreneur and an astute businesswoman.”

She received the Order of Canada almost 20 years ago. Today, Scott lives quietly in Niagara-on-the-Lake, largely retired from her hectic working and volunteer careers.

She and Hugh Farrell, her husband of over 40 years, moved to Niagara on the Lake 33 years ago. First as weekenders, then 20 years or so ago, as full-time residents.

She remembers they moved to town because an old friend from Toronto, Bluma Appel, told them to … literally.

“She’d invited us to town for the theatre,” says Scott. “I fell in love with the place.”

Appel, a well-known philanthropist, patron of the arts and avid supporter of Niagara, told Scott: “I’ve found you a house and you’re going to buy it. I’ll just put a hold on it.”

“So, we did.”

Donna Scott was born in Toronto, raised in Saskatoon and educated at Queen’s University, in the then-fledging industrial relations faculty.

Her mother was a church organist and choir leader in Saskatoon; her father a pharmacist turned Rexall executive. His company sent the Erin, Ont., native, and his family, to open the west for the growing pharmaceutical retailer.

As a student, “I didn’t care about mathematics. I liked English and I liked the theatre. I was just a typical girl.”

Unlike her mother, Scott never took to music: “I never really played. I was too busy with boys and everything.”

Scott recalls an early childhood story. At the age of three or four, every Saturday morning her father took her along while he did his banking. Perched on the high counter, Scott carefully watched her father’s transactions. It’s obviously a very warm memory, one that shaped her future.

“I was an only child. My parents made damn sure I was never spoiled.”

Her father told her: “Donna, you’re going to go to a university where you can learn how to be in management, where you have many options. I don’t want you taking a course where you will get stuck in one thing. You don’t know enough at this stage in life to know what to choose.”

“That made sense to me.”

Scott came east in the 1950s, to attend Queen’s University. “I became one of the first graduates in industrial relations. I was most interested in it because it had to do with people at work. Industrial relations was kind of a new thing.”

After graduation, Scott held increasingly senior positions in what was then called personnel at Eaton’s, Tip Top Tailors and later at MacLean-Hunter. She became vice-president of the publishing company and member of the management committee, responsible for all worldwide operations.

Throughout her career she remembers she was just about the first woman in everything she turned to. “I was the first woman president of the Personnel Association of Canada.”

Scott hesitates when she’s asked what it was like being the first woman in what was a man’s world. “It didn’t seem to matter to me, one little bit. When I got a promotion, sure there were people who felt badly they didn’t get it. But I don’t think it was a man-woman thing.”

“Nobody gave a damn whether I was a man or a woman, as long as I got the magazine to the printers on time.”

In the mid-1990s, Scott retired from Flaremagazine and almost immediately received a call from Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s office asking her to become chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, a position she held for four years. She then moved on to become executive director of the Ontario Arts Council.

In 2000, Scott left Toronto behind and moved full-time to their newly renovated home in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

But retirement didn’t mean retiring. She took to her new community with all the vitality of her working career.

Her list of local endeavours is long and varied. She co-chaired the fundraising committee for the new St. Catharines hospital. She had many years on the Brock University board of trustees, founded the Historic Sites Alliance and served as vice-president of the Niagara Historical Society.

But she becomes most animated when asked about the 2006 campaign she spearheaded to raise money to refurbish the bells of St. Mark’s Church and purchase six more.

“Can you imagine this beautiful church? I couldn’t believe it had bells, but they didn’t work properly. I said, ‘We need to do something about this.’ ”

Scott not only raised money; she sourced the company in Ohio where the work could be completed.

In 2017, the love of her life, Hugh Roderick Farrell, died just short of his 90thbirthday. Like Scott, Farrell had been a career labour relations specialist and consultant. They met at a national personnel conference. The couple raised his three children from a former marriage.

She admits, she’s lonely without Hugh. She tears up a little when she talks about Hugh’s Cape Breton sense of humour. “He made us all laugh,” Scott’s smile returns.

“He loved it here in town. He loved the people and he loved the life.”

Donna Scott’s career path was never a straight line. “I was always ready for the next job. But I had to feel wherever I was working, there would be an opportunity for me.”

“I never had a job I didn’t enjoy. And I believe I made a difference in every job I had.”

She is still making a difference.