2009 Barton A. Cummings Gold Medal Award

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2009 Barton A. Cummings Gold Medal Award Recipient: Chan Bell

Chan Bell

For nearly 40 years, Chan Bell, beloved wife of former AAF President Howard Bell, served as the unofficial “First Lady” of the American Advertising Federation. – during the 24 years of Howard’s presidency and in an “emeritus” capacity after his resignation. Chan, who was dearly loved by AAF members across the country, passed away in December 2008.

Chan had her own unique sense of style, but brought considerable substance with her as well. An ongoing challenge for the AAF – and any volunteer oriented organization – is maintaining the active involvement of volunteer leaders after they have moved on from official positions on the AAF board or committees. Chan recognized the problem and found a solution that has served the AAF well for many years.

While meeting with friends at an AAF Conference in Seattle, Chan conceived the idea of creating District 19, whose sole criteria for membership was that the individual be past his or her time in an official capacity with the AAF. District 19 has its own meeting at each national conference. It has been very successful in bringing back past AAF leaders for continued contact with members and the board of directors. Like Chan, the meetings always seemed to find the appropriate balance between the serious and the social. The District’s slogan “We never did it that way!” belies the fact that its members – again like Chan – were forward thinking and never stopped making valuable contributions to the AAF.

Chan had the unique ability to be comfortable with everyone, and make everyone feel welcome, be it a student, ad club board member or corporate CEO. She recognized that all members attending the AAF National Conference should have an opportunity to meet the organization’s leadership. During Howard’s tenure as president of the AAF, Chan hosted a series of receptions during the national conference and issued a personal invitation to each attendee. Chan served as the official hostess at all social functions, going out of her way to meet people and make them feel welcome. Armed with valuable insight that she had gathered from members, Chan was able to keep the AAF aware of special member needs and concerns. This important information helped lead the AAF to develop programs and services catered to member’s interests. It also helped identify future leaders, committed members and contributed to the overall health of the federation.

In 1987, when Florida passed a tax on advertising, the AAF board of directors and staff staged a major protest rally in Orlando during the national conference that resulted in the repeal of that tax. Chan played a key role in the planning of the rally and was one of the proud and excited standard bearers in that historic protest march. The rally remains one of the AAF’s most significant accomplishments and was successful in large part because of the members that Chan was helpful in recruiting to the front lines.

Over the years, Chan never hesitated to serve Howard and the federation in whatever capacity was needed. She was always available to help the staff she loved as a confidante, advisor and friend. The AAF is a better organization because of Chan’s presence. It is a sadder, and quieter, one because of her absence but her warmth, caring nature and love are a legacy that will live on.

Chan Bell introduced the AAF to Bart Cummings, the namesake of this prestigious award. The circle is completed as Chan is awarded the Barton A. Cummings Gold Medal Award.