Obituary of Laura Bennet
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Laura Bennet, 88, of Halifax died peacefully at the Halifax Infirmary on December 11, 2023.
“An amazing woman.” “A force of nature.” “Laura broke the glass ceiling before the rest of us knew it existed.”
A first-generation Canadian for whom the privilege of a college education was out of reach, Laura’s significant professional achievements and outstanding contribution to the community were all the more remarkable given the nearly two decades she spent as a stay-at-home mother.
Married for 65 years, Laura and her late husband Jim, whom she missed deeply following his death early last year, left their children and extended family with a rich trove of memories, bound together with tradition and song. The Bennet home on Dalhousie Street was a noisy, warm circus filled with family, friends, music, song, a dog, cats, and kittens.
Laura entered the professional world in 1974, at the age of 39. In subsequent years, through the example of her high-profile success in breaking gender barriers, and as a mentor and role model to many, she was a pioneer who helped raise the status of women throughout Atlantic Canada.
Unleashing her formidable intelligence, talents and energy in the male-dominated public relations and advertising arena, she met the challenge of pervasive sexism with confidence and determination. The arc of her career places her among a handful of professionals who made a major impact in building the nascent regional PR industry into a nationally competitive force.
In her first appointment, as PR Director of the Dalhousie University Arts Centre, then in its third year, she played a key role in developing an enthusiastic audience for the Centre. After a stint at Neptune Theatre, and a six-month engagement as Acting Regional Promotions and Public Relations Manager for CBC Halifax, Laura joined Corporate Communications Ltd., a public relations firm then in its second year of existence.
Over the course of her decade-long association with CCL, serving as Senior Vice President and Creative Director, Laura’s expertise, drive, and integrity were instrumental in the company’s rise to prominence as the Atlantic region’s largest communications and advertising business.
In 1982, as President and CEO she founded Sight & Sound Productions Ltd., a CCL-affiliated audio-visual production company. Laura grew Sight & Sound’s capacity to attract and serve major corporate clients such as National Sea Products, Maritime Life Assurance Company, and Maritime Tel & Tel.
In 1988, teaming up with her husband Jim and son Neale, Laura co-founded Bennet Communications Ltd., which competed successfully with larger firms to work with major clients including Nova Scotia Power, TD Bank (Atlantic Region), and the Halifax and Vancouver Constitutional Conferences.
In the early 1990s, Laura was appointed to the Board of Directors of Chrysler Canada, the only woman to serve on that board, and continued to serve after the corporation merged with Daimler.
Laura’s volunteer career spanned most of her adult life. She began as a reader for young students at the Halifax School for the Blind and her commitment to the community eventually led her to take on governance or fundraising leadership roles with four Nova Scotia universities. Other business, healthcare, arts, and community organizations that benefited from Laura’s volunteer leadership included the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council, the Metropolitan Hospitals Advisory Committee, the Nova Scotia Alzheimer’s Society, the Nova Scotia Cancer Society, the Nova Scotia Youth Orchestra, and the United Way.
Of the many organizations to benefit from her support, the IWK Hospital for Children was nearest to Laura’s heart. Over the years, her contributions included co-leading the annual Kermesse to record-breaking fundraising success; launching a volunteer-led coffee shop in the hospital’s lobby; leading the Women’s Auxiliary; and chairing the IWK Board of Governors. In the late 1980s, as Chair of Municipalities for the hospital’s capital campaign, Laura raised millions toward the merger of the IWK and Grace Maternity Hospital that made it possible for women, children, and families to receive coordinated care from a single institution.
Among other honours, Laura received the Canada Volunteer Medal, awarded to her in Ottawa in 1991, the Canadian Public Relations Society Shield of Public Service, the Canadian Cancer Society Chairman’s Award, the Progress Club Women of Distinction Award, the Canadian Woman Entrepreneur Award, and she was named to the Maritime Philanthropy Awards Honour Roll.
In their 70s, Laura and Jim ventured into the world of musical theatre, working with a team of collaborators on the creation of the original musical production “Out of Lunenburg,” and mounting a sold-out run of “Back-to-Back Bennet” at the Chester Playhouse.
Laura was predeceased by her husband Jim, daughter Lindsay Eileen, her parents Frances (Neale) and Francis Plummer, her brother Frederick, sisters Eileen Young, Norah Daley and Sheila Plummer. She is survived by her children Christie (Ken Hammel), Neale (Sharon), Amy (Tom Roach) of Halifax, and Vicky of Gloucester, MA, thirteen grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren, her sister-in-law Caroline Hubbard, and many nieces and nephews.
The family is grateful to all of Laura’s caregivers including Crystal Delorey, Rita Armbruster, and the PATH, Geriatric, and Orthopedic medical staff of the Halifax Infirmary, especially the nurses of Unit 8.3, who gave Laura exceptional care. In keeping with Laura’s commitment to the advancement of healthcare and her express wishes, Laura’s remains have been donated to Dalhousie University Medical School in support of education and research. Donations in memory of Laura may be made to the IWK Foundation. There will be no funeral or visitation. A family celebration of life will be held in the new year.