Jackie at 20, Perpetually Sunny

(Without Prejudice magazine)
by Marni Andrews

While driving through Indianapolis about six years ago on a road trip with friends and family, the unthinkable happened to Jackie Johnston. The big transport truck just ahead blew its left rear tire. It hit Jackie’s car and windshield with heavy impact. According to close friend Gabrielle Lowry, who was in the car with her, Jackie did not miss a beat. In Gaby’s words, Jackie was “totally cool and collected, totally unflappable. All was well!”

It is just that strong, independent attitude that has contributed to Jackie’s successful tenure at the OIAA as business manager. In January 2010, she’ll be a 20-year veteran of head office. From navigating around blown-out tires to cheerfully stepping in as clerk of her church for a friend whose husband had just died, Jackie is the Go-To Gal when people need something done outside the office as well.

“Jackie is all about structure,” laughs Laurie Walker, current past president of the OIAA and practice leader for ClaimsPro Inc., who has known Jackie for almost ten years. She is so efficient with duties and obligations that the rest of the industry knows an upcoming event will be under complete control, says Walker.

Lowry, who has known Jackie for more than 15 years, agrees. After her husband passed away, Lowry was consumed with the obligations of running what had been their company together.

“Jackie is so well organized that it seemed natural for her to work with me on the board of our church,” says Lowry. “She is open to new ideas and always willing to help. You know how busy she is and yet there was no hesitation on her behalf. Like a true friend she relieved me of that heavy responsibility. I’ll always be grateful.”

Current OIAA president Norman McGlashan has known Jackie for eight years, since he joined the executive in 2002/2003. He remains impressed by her good business mind and strong memory for facts, which come in handy when reviewing events that happened years earlier as well as for reviewing contracts for OIAA events.

“Jackie can provide information about claims conferences 15 years ago. If we are contemplating a speaker for an event, she can point to how that speaker or similar speakers worked or not worked for our group in the past,” says McGlashan. “She also knows all of our deadlines when brochures have to be produced, invitations ordered and meeting spaces booked. Jackie is known to all our major vendor partners and if one is normally involved in an event and has not contacted us, Jackie will often follow up. The vendor is always thankful for the reminder.”

Sam Chow, a colleague at WP magazine, agrees that Jackie’s organizational skills to help put together the OIAA Annual Claims Conference are amazing. Organizing a conference with seminars, luncheon, a job fair and more than 150 exhibitors is no easy task, says Chow, yet she does it with a passion.

“It is a joy to work with her. She is eager to help, and she is such a good team person that you can always count on her to back you up,” he says. “With her exceptional business skills in dealing with advertisers and suppliers, she is one of the important reasons why WP magazine is such a success today.”

Her eclectic interests

From perennial gardening to walking 5 km every morning to playing cards and games to a movie club encompassing Harry Potter and “chick flicks,” this is a woman who has diverse interests. This was reflected in her early career right after university. Initially Jackie, raised in Burlington, went into banking with TD. She has earned FICB (Fellow, Institute of Canadian Bankers) and PFP (Personal Financial Planner) designations.

While working at the bank in the mid 1970’s, another employee told her about a part-time job evenings and weekends as usherette in the gold seats at Maple Leaf Gardens. At the time, only women were hired for the golds, while ushers were used for the rest of the seats. Jackie got the job and had a great time with it for 14 months.

“It was just a fun job! I did the hockey games and some of the concerts. One night I went out with Rod Stewart’s sound man after the concert. We went to Fran’s and talked the whole night. I went home, showered and went straight into work. He was very nice,” remembers Jackie, who also befrended a Quebec Nordiques hockey player.

She left the bank a few times for opportunities at the University of Toronto, as a flight attendant and with The Co-operators Insurance as an adjuster. It was while working as an adjuster that she met OIAA past president Jan Rutherford, who years later encouraged Jackie to apply for her current position.

“After [my daughter] Samantha was born, Jan came to me and said the OIAA business manager was retiring. I could work from home, which would give me flexibility to be at home with Samantha,” remembers Jackie, who was one of three applicants for the position.

Jan Rutherford, senior adjuster, Brouwer Claims Canada, says that Jackie was one of the first people she met upon arriving in Toronto after university.

“We immediately became friends as her personality, integrity and joy for life were attributes that attracted people to her. Anyone who is close to Jackie will confirm that she has continued to share these qualities,” says Rutherford.

Rutherford was elected to the Ontario Insurance Adjusters Association in 1985. Over the next four years she had a chance to appreciate the effect the OIAA has on the industry. When the Business Manager’s position became available, she immediately thought of Jackie with her financial knowledge, positive thinking and easy ability to motivate people.

“She has been an incredible asset,” adds Rutherford. “She has a willingness to take on any project, work with others, and is always smiling. Very few people are indispensable. Jackie Johnston is indispensable to the OIAA.”

Jackie knows and remembers the history of all the OIAA executives, their decisions and their evolution over the past 20 years, says Walker. “Some presidents pass on books, diaries and secrets. At the OIAA, we pass on Jackie!”

The OIAA’s star business manager has also hiked and canoed in Michigan with Gaby Lowry. Lowry had always admired her friend’s meticulous dress and makeup, and was worried that Jackie would be uncomfortable getting dirty and wet at the church camp for families. Not to be outdone, Jackie not only had fun canoeing (getting very wet in the process) but also shooting arrows and rifles. Lowry insists that throughout it all her friend remained impeccably dressed!

“As Gaby had been going [to this camp] for many years with her family, we were able to stay in a cabin that had indoor plumbing. That was a blessing for me so it was not quite as bad as Gaby made it out to be!” laughs Jackie.

All about family

While her friends and associates consistently comment on Jackie’s affability, understanding nature, and grace and charm, there is no hesitation with anyone when it comes to naming her foremost passion in life: family, family and family.

Jackie’s older sister Jo-Anne Morgan (her best friend) and husband John live next door. Morgan notes that strong family bonds and values were always a motivator for Jackie. Parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles and cousins played a huge role in her life, according to Morgan. As a single mother for the last 18 years to Samantha, now 21 and attending Humber College, Jackie wanted the same strong family bond for her daughter and only child.

Kathy Forrest has known Jackie for a dozen years. They met when their daughters played on the same softball team. Forrest remembers that the girls were each the only child and that she and Jackie had similar parenting styles, which created a bond. During the years that the girls played softball (Samantha started at age four), Jackie put in time as both assistant coach and coach of the team. As a devoted mother, Jackie also served as Brownie/Girl Guide leader and faithful extracurricular driver.

“No matter how busy Jackie is, she will always take the time to help and think of others ahead of herself,” says her sister. “There have been meals waiting for my husband and me after stressful weeks; help with babysitting and driving when we felt like we were going in ten different directions, and a genuine smile and sense of calm and humor to help restore order.”

Walker of the OIAA says that Jackie is always giving to her family, from helping to look after her mother to supporting her daughter for the last 18 years.

“My whole family-two sisters Jayne and Jo-Anne and husbands Doug and John–have been a very strong family support for me along with my mom,” relates Jackie.

The competitive streak

Everyone who knows her at some point will mention Jackie’s “very, very strong” competitive nature. Older sister Jo-Anne notes with a laugh that whether it’s a game of bridge, euchre, rumoli or Monopoly, her little sister not only goes for the throat to win but will punctuate the win by doing a victory dance around the room.

Lowry calls it a “take no prisoners” approach.

“As nice and courteous as she is under normal circumstances, she turns into an extreme competitor. Watch out as she sneaks up from behind and ends up winning…. again!” says Lowry.

Forrest speaks of the night that Jackie had a dozen people to her home for an evening of playing cards. The majority of the group did not know the game, but Forrest says that Jackie made it fun for everyone as usual. She had even purchased a few prizes for the winners. When her natural competitiveness shone through and she ended up being the overall winner, she graciously declined the prize and passed it on.

In softball, Jackie managed to combine her competitive spirit with her ability to pass on enthusiasm for the game during the years that she served as a coach for her daughter’s team, according to Forrest.

Someone who lights up the room

Whether she’s answering to “Jack,” “JJ,” or “GAJ” (Great Aunt Jackie), Jackie Johnston is sure to be lighting up the room with her sunny, outgoing personality. Her voicemail messages, which can be a little long, according to friends and family, are nonetheless always upbeat, engaging and nurturing. Her sister tells the story of the time Jackie applied for a position as flight attendant for a major airline in her early 20’s. There were more than 5,000 applicants for 25 positions. The selection process was through personal interview. At the end of the day, she’d made the cut into the top 25 and ended up working as a flight attendant for a year with Wardair.

“What a strong impression she must have made with her bubbly personality and witty comments,” says her sister. “Jackie has a lust for life. Her smile, thoughtfulness, optimistic attitude and quick wit define her personality.”

Sam Chow from WP magazine says simply: “I think the OIAA has benefitted tremendously with Jackie as business manager.”

But it’s Jackie’s own words that perhaps have the strongest impact in summarizing the impression she has had on others. “I am very fortunate. I have met so many nice people along the way who have become long-time dear friends. I feel very blessed!”

Certainly the OIAA and her friends would say that the feeling is entirely mutual. Congratulations, Jackie.


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