Style Observer

Cocktails With — Elizabeth Buchanan-Hind

Sunday, April 22, 2018

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Watching Elizabeth Buchanan-Hind at work is a master class in how to execute an event without fanfare. From UWI, Mona to the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto, Canada, all bases are covered. Nothing is left to chance. Barely time to enjoy cocktails with her prior to the arrival of the gala's 400 confirmed guests. Opportunity knocks however as Ambassador Susan E Rice, the recipient of the Luminary Award, is running a tad behind schedule...

Yours is an integral role in the planning and execution of The University of the West Indies Toronto Benefit Gala. How did it begin, and what impact has it had on your own life?

I was asked by Vice-Chancellor E Nigel Harris in 2009 to organise a fund-raiser in Toronto for the benefit of the University's Scholarship Fund similar to the one I had done in New York, where we honoured such people as Dr Harry Belafonte, Sir Sidney Poitier, Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Malcolm Gladwell, Whoopi Goldberg, Professor Maya Angelou, Cicely Tyson, to name a few. I knew immediately that I would have to convince Dr G Raymond Chang, a Jamaican-Canadian, who at the time was the chairman of CI Financial, to be the patron because of the respect he commanded from the private sector in Canada and the Caribbean region. I first convinced his wife Donette and she convinced Ray. Together with our gala committee, we made the event into a fixture on the Toronto social calendar which, for the past three years, has been “sold out” three months prior to the event, thanks to the support of the Canadian private sector. Since Ray's passing, Donette and his children, Andrew Chang and Brigette Chang-Addorisio, have carried on the legacy as patrons and we continue to yield tremendous results.

I am amazed at the generosity and civility of Canadians. There is not a lot of flash or drama, just tremendous substance. Each year they give generously to the development of students who are thousands of miles away from them and whom they will never meet except for the one whom we bring to the gala to speak on behalf of the other scholarship recipients. Each year after the individual speaks, the room is stunned, emotional and energised by the calibre of student, their eloquence and their survival of dire circumstances. The guests are so moved by the moment that they feel compelled to make further contributions to assist students in the region.

What in your opinion must today's UWI student be mindful of?

Be relevant to your society. Work experience is invaluable but won't always come with remuneration. Make offers to be interns in your areas of interest or expertise and, once your foot is through the door, be eager to learn and demonstrate discipline.

What is it about The UWI that resonates in Canada and affords such generosity?

The University of the West Indies has contributed significantly to Canada's development, heritage and rich diversity through the numerous graduates who are at the top of their professions in areas of commerce, medicine, education, technology, law, the Arts, etc. Many have received national and regional awards for outstanding achievements in their respective fields from the Canadian government and other organisations.

From Gladwell to Obama... What are the five must-dos in executing an event?

Your team (which should be a circle) must reflect your work ethic and values, and be supportive of each other — it will guarantee a good result.

My mantra is “NO SURPRISES!!!!” I must be seeing nothing for the first time at the event.

Remain calm at all times — getting flustered will never make a challenging situation better.

Plan well in advance and remember that there is no such thing as a minor detail.

Always have a Plan B.

Were you to plan a dinner party for five who would you invite, and why?

Eleanor Roosevelt (after whom my daughter is named) and who said “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Michelle Obama (who would not want to meet her?) Strength, grace, poise, brains, courage personified.

Malala Yousafzai (Her depth of understanding of social injustice at such a young age is astounding.)

Malcolm Gladwell. The most self-effacing person I have ever met— simply beautiful.

Barack Obama. Class act!

What are five things about you that many would find hard to believe?

I am inherently introverted but I enjoy a great gathering.

I love animals.

I'm terribly impatient.

I find “hypocrisy” distasteful.

I am extremely loyal.

Share with us the title of the last book you read.

LOL! That's funny because the last book I read was The Silver Sword, a couple weeks ago. It is required reading for my daughter who is in first form at Campion.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

That would be a long list because I was one of those who had to feel to learn because I was a Miss Know It All. But I would say that there are so many opportunities out there without price tags that go unused. I remember my uncle, who is in education in the US, saying that over 30% of scholarship funds go untapped. Just think of the possibilities for self-development, adventure and service!

What has parenthood taught you?

Parenting has taught me that a part of my responsibility is the “educere” of my child. “Educere” is the Latin word from which the word “education” is derived. “Educere” means “to lead out” — most people would think it means to pour in. We are such a gifted nation with an abundance of unrealised talent. If only we could reach into each child and help them to realise the wonderful talent with which they have been blessed. One of my daughter's violin teachers who is American and who has taught all over the world said that Jamaican children are the most talented students that she has ever taught anywhere in the world — that's quite easy to believe.

Finally, what's your personal philosophy?

Never whine! It's unproductive and ugly. Just get on with it!

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