Bill Draayer - 2011 George Brown

The Bill Draayer Award was established in 1983 and has since become the premier award honouring members who have made a considerable investment of their time, energy and ideas for the betterment of AWNA.

The intent of the award is to recognize a member who has served AWNA without thought of recognition or reward. The criteria used in the selection process is focused around three specific contributions:

  • Innovative development of a service or policy that has proven beneficial to AWNA and its members.
  • Individual diligence in pursuit of a successful objective that enhances efficiency, profitability or public image of weekly newspapers in general and 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.

Our Draayer award recipient for 2011 has more than fulfilled all three of these contributions, he is none other thanGeorge Brown.

It’s rather ironic that I turned out to be the one chosen to regale George with this award, because - as I have often reminded him - when I was purchasing the Sylvan Lake News, the deal was held up by some unresolved litigation involving one of the more unsavoury characters around town. It appears that George wasn’t just content to think the guy was a crook, he took it a step further and put it in writing. I don’t know how it was finally resolved, but it was. And that was my introduction to the ‘intrepid reporter’ named George Brown.


George likes to say that he’s been in the newspaper business for almost 45 years. Of course you have to go back and count his days working on the high school newspaper, and then go even farther back to the days when he was delivering newspapers as a carrier for the Kingston Whig Standard, The Toronto Star and The Toronto Telegram as a kid.

George graduated from the journalism program at Grant MacEwan College in 1981. He says that the reputation of weekly newspaper publishers had taken hold within the college as a wild assortment of mavericks and renegades, and you can see how he felt he would fit right in! So he became involved in the weekly newspaper field and met a few publishers like: George Meyer, Peter Pickersgill, Duff Jamison, Paul Rockley, and his suspicions were confirmed. I laughed when he brought up those names, and I told him that he missed more than half of the best ones. George met Bill Draayer in 1979 and in another irony, eventually took over his desk in Wetaskiwin.

As it happened, George came to work under both Gary MacDonald of the Sylvan Lake News and Hugh Johnston of the Devon Dispatch News. Both publishers were presidents of the AWNA while George worked for them. He saw how they exemplified the dedication that newspaper publishers must have if they are to be leaders in the community, and the sacrifices and commitment that must be made to serve the association and help advance the industry.

He attended numerous conventions and workshops and was encouraged to become involved in the planning side of the association. So the seeds had already taken hold when Mary Jane Harper asked him to consider running for the board.

This was the beginning of a long and fruitful relationship with AWNA. George has since chaired the ad committee, the convention committee and for many years the symposium, the spring meeting committee, the government relations committee, the BNC committee and the the history book committee. This was all in addition to the usual board extension Chairs of Nominating and Executive Committees. He still found time to serve and be the Liaison with Direct Energy on the Volunteer of the Year Award. Needless to say George has made a significant impact.

And we would certainly be remiss if we were to overlook the friendly banter between George and provincial politicians in the annual Bear Pit Sessions where George served as Master of Ceremonies for many years. George was elected to the AWNA board in 2005 and like many of us, he moved up through the ranks to President prematurely, unfortunately because of deaths, retirements and illnesses of other board members.

He became President in 2008 and served two of the most challenging years AWNA has yet to go through. A major client bankruptcy caused the association to look beyond simple cost cutting measures and to consider new models to manage the association. Yet under George’s leadership and the wisdom of a dedicated board of directors, AWNA managed to move forward. A strategic planning workshop was organized with the existing board members at the time, and a number of Past Presidents. Out of that came a re-invigorated relationship with members, and a clearer role in the association’s leadership of the industry.

AWNA was eventually able to purchase its own office. George tells me that cutting that ribbon was one of his proudest moments in the newspaper industry.

As an indication of the true measure of George’s dedication, Dennis and George attended the convention of l’Association de la Presse Francophone in Quebec. George had to present some awards, and give a speech in French. He tells me it turned out well. They laughed when they should have, and they applauded when he stopped speaking.

George has been very active in the communities he has worked in, serving as Chair or President of such bodies as: Recreation Boards, Crime Stoppers, Economic Development, Tourism, Chamber of Commerce and a Police Commission.

He has been honoured with a Silver Quill for 25 years of service, several awards from the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, as well as numerous personal and newspaper awards from AWNA and CCNAs Better Newspapers competitions.

George and Julie Anne live on a 20 acre spread near Millet, Alberta that they affectionately call “The Compound”. He has one son, Michael, 23 years old. George collects stamps and enjoys photography.

George is currently the editor of the Ponoka News, just down the road from The Compound. Not content to leave the duties of the board completely, he was elected as the representative of AWNA on the CCNA board, a position he still holds, and a true testimony to the commitment he began when first elected to office back in 2005.

I had to chuckle to myself when I read the bio that George sent me. He started out by saying that it’s all pretty ‘boring’. Well George, you’ve certainly contributed your share to that mystique of "a wild assortment of mavericks and renegades" and you have definitely not been boring.

It is truly an honour and privilege to present this award to a very worthy candidate, George Brown. Please join us in congratulating George — the 2011 recipient of the Bill Draayer Award!  Presented by Barry Hibbert, publisher of the Sylvan Lake News.

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