Media pioneer challenges herself most of all

When Denise Donlon faces a challenge, she sometimes thinks of her father’s words of encouragement.

“Just stand up for yourself,” he would tell her. “It’s hard to do and it’s scary to do, but at the end of the day it’s the only thing to do.”

East York resident Denise Donlon participated in the Women’s March a few weeks ago and as well as her father’s words, she considers joining such actions an honour and a means of self-improvement.

“We’ve only got this one time on Earth,” she said. “So challenge yourself. Get out of your comfort zone and live your best life.”

During her career, Donlon has gone from concert promotion at the University of Waterloo to hosting at MuchMusic to working as the first female president of Sony Music Canada to being an executive director at CBC to becoming a published author.

In her 2016 book, Fearless as Possible: Under the Circumstances, she shares stories of adversity in business – breaking the so-called glass ceiling – as well as coping with personal hardships.

“It was particularly tough because … I was trying to learn the business when the business was severely under fire. … So going to international meetings where I was the only female president in a room, it was a daunting thing,” Donlon said.

When she joined MuchMusic, Donlon began as a host, but that evolved into hour-long specials addressing contentious issues in the 1990s, such as racism and gender equality.

“I found out what makes me happy and most fulfilled … is when I came to use whatever position that I’m in to be a force for good,” Donlon said.

Among a number of community activities, Donlon ran a Kumbaya event for HIV/AIDS in 1993 and was responsible for making MuchMusic the first mainstream broadcaster to put a float in Toronto’s Pride parade.

Donlon now lives in East York with her husband Murray McLauchlan and son Duncan. When she looks at life in her published memoir, she quotes one of her husband’s lyrics: “The second half of life is where the fun begins.” But then she adds, ”Though I have to admit, I’ve had a fair bit of fun in the first half.”

As a media pioneer, philanthropist and feminist Denise Donlon has accomplished much in her lifetime. Here’s the way she views the experience.

“People would ask me, ‘Did you lean in?’ and I would say, ‘I leaned in so far my feet were off the ground,” Donlon said.