Blindness doesn’t stop York alumnus

York alumnus Michael Ovens (BES ’02) had a few goals in his life – finish university, get a job and buy a condo. When he’d accomplished those goals, he decided it was time to volunteer, wrote the Sudbury Star Nov. 22. "I began to look around for an organization to volunteer for," said Ovens, a former Val Therese resident now living in Toronto who is blind. "I’d always been interested in the Foundation Fighting Blindness, but I never had the time to get involved with them."

When Ovens was seven or eight years old, his parents noticed that he had trouble seeing at night. "It took quite a few years to figure it out…it was retinitis pigmentosa. It’s a degenerative eye disease which affects the retina. Currently there is no cure."  His vision loss progressed from night blindness to tunnel vision. Throughout elementary and high school, Ovens did well at school, but needed some extra time to complete assignments by the end of high school. He graduated from Ecole secondaire Hanmer and went to York University.

"Three months before graduating, in 2002, I guess the last healthy clump of retina gave out and I couldn’t read print any more," Ovens said. "So, I had to go back and learn JAWS (Job Access With Speech) which allows you to navigate the computer screen without the use of a mouse."

In 2005, Ovens began running marathons to raise money for the foundation. This year, he raised $5,000. Ovens plans to run the Miami Marathon on Jan. 27, the Boston Marathon in April, Run Ottawa in May and the New York City Marathon in November to raise money for the foundation. The group’s sole purpose is to fund Canadian research.

Holocaust survivors publish memoirs

Anew series of memoirs written by Holocaust survivors was launched in Toronto last night in a bid to ensure their personal witness to history lives on even after they are gone, wrote the National Post Nov. 22.

"The survivors are not going to be with us for very long," said Dr. Naomi Azrieli, executive director of the Azrieli Foundation, the non-profit organization undertaking the project. "We feel a sense of urgency."

The Toronto-based Azrieli Foundation, in partnership with the York University Centre for Jewish Studies, has collected 170 manuscripts so far, six of which have been released in this first boxed set. The goal is to eventually publish all the manuscripts – and any more that they may receive – and distribute them free to libraries and interested readers.

Who’s in charge here?

Commenting on a new management structure at small but award-winning ad agency Zig, Alan Middleton, a former president and CEO within the global ad agency J. Walter Thompson Co., and now a professor at York’s Schulich School of Business, echoes the conventional wisdom, wrote The Globe and Mail Nov. 22. "You expand, you get bigger clients. But the bigger brands are often less accepting of risk, and so the quality of the work declines. You begin to lose traction, to lose what made you unique in the first place." Middleton believes Zig’s recent work for Molson is a case in point: the ads, he says, were "unimaginative" and "not up to par."

To fight that trend, company partners Lorraine Tao and Elspeth Lynn wasted no time in approaching Martin Beauvais, who, at the time, was executive VP and creative director in the Montreal office of BBDO, an international advertising powerhouse. If he would agree to run Zig’s creative department, they would happily cede their management responsibilities to him and return to the creative trenches. Essentially, Beauvais would become the bosses’ boss.

In the annals of Canadian advertising, Zig is the first agency to make this unorthodox move – this zag – and the industry is eagerly watching the experiment unfold, assessing such a novel method of coping with growth.

Middleton insists such arrangements can succeed. "The person coming in has to recognize that he’s surrounded by the owners. And the owners have to know that you don’t bring in anyone good and tell them what to do all the time. It takes maturity all round. I think the most you can say about this sort of set-up is that sometimes it can work."