By RON FANFAIR
To say that Kay Blair left this world a better place than she found it isn’t an exaggeration.
The longtime Community MicroSkills Development Centre (CMDC) executive director lost her lengthy fight with cancer last Monday.
When she assumed the role in 1988, the organization – which at the time served primarily immigrant women – operated out of a small space with just four employees, two desks, four computers and an annual budget of about $400,000.
With a staff of 107, the organization served 17,000 women, youth and newcomers across the Greater Toronto Area last year.
Former CMDC associate director and director, Aina-Nia Grant, will remember Blair for her friendship and social justice advocacy.
“This was a woman who did all she could, yet she wanted to do more even though she was very ill,” said Grant. “I reassured her the last time I saw her last Saturday that she had done her job and everyone was very proud of her. She has left her mark in many areas, including women against violence and the social services sectors.”
Olivia “Moy” Fung was the recipient of the 2014 MicroSkills Women’s Enterprise & Resource Centre Entrepreneur of the Year Award that honours graduates who overcome obstacles and successfully realize their dream of starting a business.
“Kay was my mentor and role model,” said Fung. “She was a trailblazer, powerhouse and the epitome of beauty and grace. Her life will continue to inspire me.”
Jamaica Canadian Association (JCA) president, Adaoma Patterson, met Blair in the late 1990s when they were members of the National Visible Minority Council on Labour Force Development.
“I admired Kay’s ability to have difficult conversations that challenged racism and other inequities,” said Patterson who is also a Peel Poverty Reduction Strategy adviser. “In addition to being extremely supportive of my 2015 federal campaign, she encouraged so many women to achieve their goals and she lived her life boldly and honestly. She fought valiantly and will now rest in peace.”
Last year, community strategist and Hamilton Spectator columnist, Evelyn Myrie, organized an evening of music, dance and spoken word paying tribute to Blair. Part of the proceeds went to Brampton Civic Hospital and London Health Science Centre.
Myrie said Blair was a visionary, a big thinker and a phenomenal woman.
“Kay exemplified sisterhood by being available to women in need,” she said. “She lived by the saying lift as we climb always reaching back to help someone who needed a helping hand in the workplace or in their personal life. She was able to see the good in a situation, even when things looked bleak.”
Migrating from Jamaica in 1976, Blair made a profound impact on the community in the last two decades and her dynamic leadership and entrepreneurial and innovative acumen made a lasting impression in the Greater Toronto Area.
She launched the first Women’s Enterprise & Resource Centre and the first Women’s Technology Institute in Ontario, both of which focus on immigrant and racialized women, served as United Way Toronto Campaign Cabinet for Member Agencies chair and was the lead for a partnership of community agencies to address the concerns of immigrant racialized youth which led to the creation of Dixon Neighbourhood Youth Centre, now Dixon Youth Centre.
Blair was also an Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) president for two terms, a member of the Laidlaw Foundation, Peel Police Race Relations Committee and Centennial College’s board of directors and a former chair of the William Osler Health System’s board of directors.
“Osler’s Board of Directors and the entire Osler family are deeply saddened over the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Kay Blair,” said board chair, Vanita Varma. “During the past seven years of volunteer service to Osler, she provided tremendous leadership and direction to the organization, ensuring the community was served in a way that exemplifies inclusiveness, kindness and compassion.”
Two years ago, Osler’s Community Service Award was renamed to honour Blair.
“The Board thought that it was only fitting that it find a way to thank Kay and recognize her for her efforts and contributions to the organization, one that would continue to pay tribute and demonstrate appreciation for all that she has done for Osler,” said Varma. “She held a special place in the hearts and minds of all staff, physicians and volunteers at Osler and will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing and working alongside her.”
Blair was recognized with many awards, including the 2006 YWCA Women of Distinction Award for Community Leadership; the 2007 Premier’s Award, the 2011 Jamaica Canadian Association Outstanding Achievement Award and the 2014 Frances Lankin Community Service Award.
In 2004, the tireless advocate was the only Black woman to make the Women’s Executive Network’s (WXN) Top 100 Canada’s Most Powerful Women list.
Once married to former Jamaica and Metro Croatia soccer striker, Corcel “Django” Blair who died eight years ago, Blair is survived by their sons, Corcel Jr. and Karim.