Judy Elder
Judy Elder

Microsoft, IBM & Ogilvy & Mather

Judy Elder was a well-known and respected business leader in Canada until her untimely passing on March 28, 2002 at the age of 47. Through her intelligence, tenacity, and ambition, she reached the top ranks in several organizations including Ogilvy & Mather, IBM Canada, the Canadian Marketing Association, and most recently Microsoft Canada.

She was an advocate for career women, encouraging them to acknowledge and be proud of their ambition, to have an impact, make a difference and make things happen.

The following story related by her husband sums up in many resonant ways how her beliefs were inspiring for others…

On March 7, 2002, Judy gave a speech to the Women’s Television Network series “Gift of Wisdom”. It was called “Mothers, Fathers, Men, Ambition: The people and values that motivate and shape women’s success”.

After her speech, a number of people stayed behind to ask questions. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a young woman holding back. After about a half an hour, the last questioner had gone and this woman stepped forward. She said to Judy, she said with some feeling, everything you have said is all well and good, but how do you handle it when you suffer from a chronic illness?

This gives you a sense of her personal motivation. She was taken aback. How did this woman know? Had she seen Judy in hospital or at her doctor’s office?

Then Judy realized that, in asking the question, this woman was talking about herself and not about Judy. This woman, too, was suffering from a chronic illness.

So, I asked Judy, did you tell her about your condition? Judy said no. She didn’t think it worthwhile getting into a discussion over whose illness was worse.

Instead, she said, I tried not to appear patronizing but I passed on three things what I had worked out for myself.

First, she told the young woman: “don’t be afraid, at least try not to be afraid. Fear undermines everything. It immobilizes you.”

Second, be honest with yourself. Decide what really matters to you and do it. Do it now because there may not be a later.

And third, whatever you choose to do, do it well. Make your time worthwhile. Whatever really matters to you, make a difference and make it happen.

The Judy Project was established in memory of Judy Elder. The Judy Project, An Enlightened Leadership Forum for Executive Women, is designed to advance more women into CEO positions and build stronger organizations. The week long forum, collaboratively created by some of Canada’s senior women executives in partnership with the Rotman School of Management, well-respected academics and business leaders, hosts about 30 senior women executives annually, is the leading executive program for women in Canada.

The Canadian Marketing Association bestowed its highest honour, the CMA Lifetime Achievement Award, posthumously to Judy Elder on Friday, November 14, 2003.