Jean Pakenham came to The Interim in November 1986 and soon helped it to get on its financial feet. Combining her years of experience in newspaper advertising with her business acumen, Jean organized the paper’s advertising department, making it an indispensable part of The Interim. Her organizational skills and no-nonsense approach are the hallmarks of a modern, female, corporate executive with one exception. Jean works not only to increase revenue by to save preborn babies.
Born, raised and educated in Peterborough, Ontario, of an English father and a mother of French Canadian background, Jean was one of seven brothers and sisters. Of her devoutly religious parents, she muses, “Although I didn’t inherit my father’s beautiful singing voice, I got his direct, clear way of thinking and answering questions. I inherited my business sense from my mother, who knew and recorded where every penny went.”
Jean married young and with her husband moved to Toronto during the early years of World War II. As part of the women’s’ war effort to fill jobs vacated by men going to war, she worked on a factory punch press for two years. Around this time, Ted, her only child, was born. When he was two years old, Jean became a single mother and the family breadwinner. She raised Ted alone, and today he is a highly skilled and recognized electronics expert who lives in London, Ontario, with his wife and two daughters.
To support Ted and herself, Jean ventured into the working world. She applied for a job at the now-defunct Toronto Telegram newspaper in response to an advertisement. Apprehensively, she went for an interview. The woman in charge was Miss Pyper, “a grandmotherly type,” who said that part of the job was to telephone advertisers.
Panic-stricken, Jean exclaimed she could never do that. Apparently Miss Pyper saw more in Jean than she did in herself. With a pat on the back and a bright smile, Miss Pyper said, “Of course you can. See you in the morning.”
Jean recalls that Miss Pyper taught her an invaluable lesson, which led to a philosophy adopted by Jean over the years: “You can do anything you want to do, if you want to do it badly enough.” But then she adds, “with the help of Our Lady and Almighty God.” This philosophy would sustain Jean in her long successful advertising career, spanning four decades and three national newspapers. Her many extracurricular activities and interests, of course, are another story.
During her almost twenty years at the Toronto Telegram, Jean worked in the Advertising Department, joined the Toronto Newspaper Guild, and took public speaking courses which she said gave her confidence and entry into public life. For ten years she was elected treasurer of the internationally affiliated organization, traveling to major American cities. She won two national awards “for best steward of the year.” (A “Guild” steward negotiates problems or complaints in the local workplace with the company management representative).
When “The Tely” closed in 1971, Jean worked temporarily for The Telegram Man Power Adjustment Committee to find jobs for Tely employees. Typically, she worried more about others than herself. One day, the then Managing Editor of Toronto’s Catholic Register (a co-worker at the Tely and a Guild colleague), Bob Vezina, called to ask what she was doing about a job for herself. Surprised, Jean replied that she hadn’t thought about it. He told her to get cover here and give a hand because the paper can use you. Laughing, Jean recalls, “I forgot to ask about the pay.”
For fifteen years, Jean worked at the Catholic Register, where she became Advertising Manager. She introduced innovative ideas such as Christmas and Easter events, a bride’s page, and, dear to her heart, a very successful semi-annual vocations supplement. To her joy, it attracted many inquiries which led to religious vocations. She also channeled her love of travel into organizing chartered tours to holy sites sponsored by the newspaper. In 1984, my husband and I joined one of Jean’s memorable tours to the Holy Land. In the Sahara desert, in the 110 degree heat, she decided to make tea to cool off. She scalded her arm badly on the boiling water and developed a nasty wound. Stoically, however, she bound her arm in a sling and continued the tour in spite of the pain. It was business as usual.
Beating the odds
In 1984, before joining The Interim Jean required serious neurosurgery. She was told she might not survive. The evening before the operation her son, Ted, and her priest brother visited her. In the family tradition of faith and perseverance in adversity, they cheerfully said, “See you in the morning when you wake up.” Wake up she did, beating the odds. Soon she was back at work.
In 1986, Jim Hughes, president of Campaign Life Coalition, heard that Jean was leaving the Register. Like a fox on a good scent, he gave chase. At the time Jean was scheduled, again, for serious surgery. She was less than moved by his plea to help the financially distressed Interim. She went on a tour, had the surgery, convalesced and reconsidered Jim’s offer. She would help the Interim for a few months. As of this date, she is still here and still performing financial miracles.
Initially, Jean wondered where to begin with advertising in this unique paper, whose pro-life cause was not always popular. She remembered Miss Pyper’s lesson and tried new ideas. Her first customer was the priest Superior of the Redemptorist Order, who happened to be her brother. His simple ad read, “Christmas Greetings from the Redemptorists.” She decided to go with the “Greetings” idea, and began to invite churches in and around Toronto to buy ads, offering them a special kind of opportunity to support the pro-life cause without being actively involved. The idea worked wonders. She approached non-Catholic churches too, Jean explains, but their need to get approval from many church levels for advertising impedes most from buying ads. As a result, it is almost only Catholic churches which financially support The Interim.
Of her pro-life involvement, Jean reflects, “The knowledge, depth and breadth of the pro-life cause came to me late in life.” As well as the practical work involved, she believes that prayer is essential for success. She never misses a chance to ask for prayers at Sunday Mass where she is a lector. She has a deep devotion to Our Lady and believes her intercession is needed to abolish abortion.
Jean is well-liked and respected by her co-workers at The Interim. For instance, Sabina McLuhan, former Editor of the paper says, “When Jean came to The Interim she put advertising on a professional basis for the first time. She was very understanding of the pressures of putting out a newspaper and always managed an encouraging or kind word when it was needed. She is a professional with a heart. I don’t know where I would have been without her.”
Father Alphonse de Valk, presently in charge, says, “Jean is a perfect example of the kind of person difficulty to find today. She is hard-working, always on top of her job, while generous and totally committed to the cause this paper stands for. She joined our struggling newspaper to give us an advertising department. Today the paper almost pays for itself. We couldn’t have done without her.”
Hopes for semi-retirement
Jean is retiring from full-time work at The Interim this February. She will continue to help the Advertising Department and will continue to sell ads from home. On February 28, she celebrates her birthday and like Jack Benny, “it will be 39 again.”
Best wishes, Jean, for a happy semi-retirement and a happy 39th. From your friends and readers at The Interim, and especially from the precious preborn, loving thanks for being a financial godmother.