Gail Massy – colleague, mentor and friend – passed away last week (May 6, 2013). Several tributes to her life and legacy have been printed in the newspapers and posted online. Her funeral was massive, celebrity-sized, bringing together so many to mourn her passing and celebrate her life. It was a kind of notoriety that would have been quite uncomfortable for Gail. She was a quiet and private person.
That someone who shunned the spotlight so much should receive so grand a farewell seems ironic, but it’s not. It is a testament to the character of Gail Massy. Gail’s impact was not based on any flamboyance of personality but on the strong friendships she forged, the commitments she kept and her absolute professionalism.
All three of these typified her relationships within Lonsdale Saatchi & Saatchi. Gail joined Lonsdale in 2003 as an Editor and became Head of the Editorial Department in 2006. There is almost no way to overstate her contribution to the organisation in that decade-long association. Under her stewardship the Editorial Department won numerous advertising agency awards and made a considerable contribution to the prestige and profits of the agency. Chances are that you have read at least one book, newsletter or magazine; browsed the financials of an annual report; or marked a date on a calendar that was designed and published by Gail and her team.
As head of the Editorial Department, Gail was also responsible for the proofreading of all ads that passed through the agency and was the final check against errors in all creative works produced by Lonsdale. In fact, she loved and was much more comfortable as a proofreader than a manager, intending to continue her work as an editor after her retirement in February 2012.
This is another of Gail’s seeming contradictions. As uncomfortable as she sometimes was in the role of manager, Gail fashioned her department into one of Lonsdale’s tightest and most efficient ships. Boisterous agency personnel would lower their voices, tip toe and knock gently on the door to Editorial because it was as quiet as a library. Not that communication, warmth or laughter were missing from the department, far from it, but when the chatting went on too long Gail would conveniently slide from her office with a new task or request for an update on an ongoing job in the most pleasant, nondescript manner.
She was non-confrontational, so she used her creativity to solve her management challenges and shape editorial into the well-oiled machine it was, a tradition and culture that continues today in its present incarnation as Sage, Lonsdale’s Corporate Communications and Publications division.
But perhaps the most important contribution that Gail brought to Lonsdale and those who worked with her was her manner, her way of being. In an industry known for its frenetic energy and loud and larger than life personalities, she was a constant and calming influence. Never losing her cool, even in circumstances where losing your cool would seem the most appropriate response.
Was it always easy for her? Not at all. Gail was as warm and human a person as anyone. Anyone who had the pleasure of taking a drink with her could tell you of her mischievous wit, deep insight and empathy for others. She was – like anyone who loves books – a bit of a dreamer, intensely fascinated by astronomy, astrology and the mysteries of life and the universe.
But Gail was old school. To her, doing her job to the best of her ability – no matter how difficult it could be sometimes – was her duty, and she did without complaint or loss of composure. As colleagues and clients can attest, she was always steadfast, a rock when the situation was volatile. And the situation was often volatile.
In his writing, American educator Stephen Covey talks about the personality ethic versus the character ethic. People who follow the character ethic, he says, live their values no matter the circumstance. It’s a rare thing these days and becoming rarer still. That is why Gail Massy has left such a strong mark on so many of us both within and outside the agency.
And that is why we are so moved to celebrate you Gail, even if it’s more fuss than you would have liked. You are a one of a kind. Lonsdale is a better agency from having you as part of it. Farewell for now.