Harry Jerome Award winner Denise Jones has a lot to be thankful for. She has been counting her blessings ever since surviving a brain aneurysm 12 years ago.
Just a few days after the annual Caribana celebration that year, Jones developed a debilitating headache.
“Prior to that week, I was walking five miles a day and living healthy after being baptized as a Seventh-day Adventist,” she said. “I was however feeling extremely tired and medical tests did not reveal anything out of the ordinary.”
Jones was preparing to undergo a sleep observation test when she fell violently ill at her Brampton residence on August 8, 2002.
“I was in the laundry room when my head suddenly exploded,” she said. “I knew something was wrong and I told Jesse (the older of her two sons) to call 9-1-1. I remember going into the ambulance and asking the paramedics not to take me to Brampton Civic Hospital because my brother-in-law had died there of brain cancer and it wasn’t a neurological hospital.”
Jones wanted to be transported to Mississauga’s Trillium Health Centre which is the only community hospital in Canada that provides tertiary regional neurosurgery services and care for patients with minor to severe head trauma and aneurysms.
She got her wish because Brampton Civic Hospital’s emergency room was busy.
After a six-hour surgery, Jones spent 14 days recovering in hospital and another eight months rehabilitating.
“I was later told by family members that the doctors said the odds of me living were not good prior to the surgery and there were no guarantees,” she said. “Ever since that close brush with death, my whole approach to life has changed. I realize that life is short and I am making every moment count.”
A graduate of Titchfield High School in Port Antonio on Jamaica’s northeastern coast, Jones pursued post-secondary education at the University of Windsor, graduating with a communications & theatre degree in 1977.
She returned to Jamaica and married Allan Jones who she met while they were both cast in a pantomime. The couple migrated to Canada in 1980 and settled in Sudbury.
Jones was the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio northern Ontario arts reporter for five years before relocating to the Greater Toronto Area where the couple focused on the multi-service company – Jones & Jones – they created which organize and book entertainers for non-profit, corporate, religious and academic organizations.
In December 2011, Jones & Jones extended its tentacles to the radio market, partnering with CHIN Radio/TV International to become the executive producers of The Swing which showcases dynamic and engaging urban culture, music and talk shows.
Jones, who established the Juno Awards reggae category, is among 16 Harry Jerome Award winners who will be honoured on Saturday night at the 32nd annual gala administered by the Black Business & Professional Association (BBPA).
“This is the most exciting yet humbling experience I have had,” said outgoing Justice Greg Regis who will be recognized for lifetime service. “When one is honoured in this way by their community, it produces emotions and feelings that are difficult to describe. This is the best acknowledgement of my work and activity and I am so elated and thankful.”
Regis is dedicating the award to his late mother who died three years ago.
“Anything that I have achieved is directly attributable to the guidance, support and encouragement she provided all my life,” the married father of two daughters added. “From a very early age, she instilled in my brothers and me the importance of learning and the need to use any advantage one may have to assist others. Although she only had a primary school education, she insisted that her children get the highest level of education possible.”
A former journalist, Regis migrated from St. Lucia in 1974 and was the Jane-Finch Community Legal Service executive director, Canadian Council for International Co-operation director, St. Lucia-Toronto Association president and Caribana chair before being appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in January 1999.
Regis – who was the first Black to serve as a Regional Senior Justice – retires from the bench on April 30. He plans to become a part-time judge.
“That may not last long,” he said. “I am speaking with the St. Lucian Prime Minister (Kenny Anthony) about doing some projects in the justice system there, but nothing is finalized.”
Other award winners are Justice Donald McLeod who will receive the President’s Award, Liberal Party of Quebec youth commission president Madwa-Nika Phanord Cadet who will be honoured for leadership, master chef Selwyn Richards who is recognized for business excellence, Toye Ojo who will be honoured for academic brilliance, Vaughan Road Academy graduate and music reporter & sound editor Rudy Blair who was last year bestowed with a Humber College honorary degree, filmmaker Nicole Brooks, Vancouver-based youth entrepreneur Brittany Palmer who started an organization to make scholarships accessible to students, basketball player Andrew Wiggins who has declared for this year’s National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, Noca Inc. president & chief executive officer Collin Haughton, CBC managing director Susan Marjetti and YWCA Toronto president Dr. Rosemarie Moodie who is a paediatrician and neonatologist at the Hospital for Sick Children.
This year’s Harry Jerome Awards event takes place at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South building, starting at 6.30 p.m.