Bill Draayer Award 2008

Given in recognition of outstanding personal contributions to the progress and development of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association.

The 2008 recipient of the Bill Draayer Award, presented annually to a weekly newspaper person for outstanding contribution to the progress and development of the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association, is Richard Holmes, publisher of The Provost News.

Let me tell you a little about the award. In 1983 during the AWNA’s annual convention, longtime member of the association and everyone’s favourite newspaperman Howie Bowes became the first recipient of the Bill Draayer Award. Thus began a strong tradition of honouring people who have worked tirelessly for the betterment of the association.

The intent of the award is to recognize a member who has served the AWNA without thought of recognition or reward. The criteria to be used in our selection process was as follows:

  • Innovative development of a service policy that has proven beneficial to AWNA and its individual members.
  • Individual diligence in pursuit of a successful objective that enhances efficiency, profitability or public image of weekly newspapers in general and in AWNA in particular.
  • A member who has a record of reliability in performance of volunteer or assigned association projects vital to its present or future success.

The criteria does an excellent job of describing Richard Holmes. Richard’s influence on the AWNA began early, when as publisher of an independent newspaper he called AWNA Central Office and also wrote a letter urging AWNA to have the Blanket Classified ads typeset and camera-ready for paste-up in each member newspaper instead of each paper re-typesetting them. Such a time-saving measure was invaluable for publishers, particularly someone like Richard who was still setting them on the hot metal Linotype in his shop.

As technology advanced Richard later phoned the Alberta Government Public Affairs Bureau and patiently explained that instead of mailing out hard copies of their news releases, they should capture all that text from the news releases and put it on a floppy disk and mail it to newspapers. He had to explain to them in detail exactly how to do that and in what format, since all this was so new. He then called Alberta Agriculture and convinced them to do the same thing.

Such vision is not surprising coming from Richard, who has been a leader in the association in terms of implementing the newest technological advances in his own shop. Richard first joined the board of directors for the Alberta Weekly Newspapers Association following his election in 1992 and jumped right into the thick of things as a member of the Membership Committee, which he wound up chairing the following year.

Then in 1994 Richard joined the Government Relations Committee and the next year became first vice-president while serving with Frank McTighe on a Membership Review Committee. Richard progressed through the chairs with the AWNA board and became president of the association for 1996-‘97.

A good example of the kind of leadership Richard provided the association as president is that during his term he reported to the membership that the board was facing a Revenue Canada challenge. Richard and the board stood firm in their belief that AWNA should be able to keep its tax-free, non-profit status and were prepared to argue in the courts if need be. Executive Director Dennis Merrell was ready to testify at formal hearings with lots of ammunition, but the federal government, which had threatened the association, wisely backed down at the last minute.

Another example of the wisdom and courage Richard brings to the board is the steadfast position the board took against a $6 million lawsuit — which included the individual naming of directors personally, for $500,000 each — by a newspaper company whose papers had been suspended from AWNA for refusing to comply with the rules surrounding publication of the Blanket Classifieds. The AWNA was prepared to go to court but later, following a change in ownership, the newspaper company dropped the suit. As association president, Richard got to bring that good news to the membership.

Richard is not one to seek out the limelight, and was quick to point out these accomplishments involved many other people like the rest of the board and of course, AWNA central office staff and other volunteers. Richard became past president and served again on the Government Relations Committee as well as the Blanket Classified Ad Review Committee. To this day our member papers enjoy the benefit of the work of that committee, which recommended to the board of directors some cash be returned directly to the newspaper that donated so much space for the Blanket Classified program.

After a brief absence following his term as past president, Richard returned to the AWNA board in 2003 as one of the association’s representatives on the Canadian Community Newspapers Association board of directors. He served one three-year term and is now entering the final year of a second three-year term. In his work at the national level, Richard served on CCNA's Better Newspapers Competitions committee and last year chaired that committee. Richard also serves on the Canadian Media Circulation Audit committee, formerly Verified Circulation, as well as on the committee that steered the project CCNA recently initiated. Now Richard is working with the board to guide the transition of the new joint CCNA and Canadian Newspaper Association effort.

In 2005 Richard chaired the committee that organized the hugely successful CCNA convention at Banff. That was even after the experience in 1992 when Richard and his wife Ruth were in charge of the CCNA children’s program for the convention at West Edmonton Mall. Still fresh in Richard’s mind was the responsibility of trying to keep track of dozens of children who at first obediently lined up behind him in the mall when getting the tickets organized — only to melt into the crowd. (And yes, one child was missing at the end of the day but was found after intensive searches, back watching TV, oblivious in a hotel room.) At present Richard is on the AWNA History Book Committee and works with Direct Energy on the important Volunteer Citizen of the Year Award program.

Richard has also taken time to judge newspapers from across Canada for national and provincial competitions while running an independent newspaper that has been in the Holmes family for over 79 years. The Provost News itself turns 100 in just two years.

It’s hard to imagine the publisher of an independent newspaper who does so much work for the industry having much of it, but in his spare time Rich has coached junior and senior high school basketball, earned a private pilot’s license, became a certified SCUBA diver, served more than a dozen years on the Provost and District Music Festival Association executive, and was the first president of the Bodo Archaeological Society after a massive and rare archaeological find was discovered 25 miles from town.

Richard has also served dozens of years on the executive of the local Chamber of Commerce and has been formally recognized by groups like the International Association of Lions Clubs, local Kinsmen Club and Royal Canadian Legion for co-operation and contributions made through the newspaper. Even though he aspired to, but for some reason never did play the trumpet like his heroes Satchmo, Al Hirt and Raphael Mendez, Richard was called many times in the community — knowing just enough music to perform the Last Post and Reveille annually on Nov. 11. Richard also found time to take both judo and karate lessons over the years — and even became the checker champion of Provost following a marathon tournament.

Richard and his wife Ruth — who has worked faithfully and tirelessly at The Provost News for many years as typesetter and salesman, etc. etc., raised two daughters and one son, all of whom worked after school and during the summers at the newspaper office as the fourth generation of family workers.

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