2016: Martha (Martie) Strayer Russel

2016 Mary Harriman Award Winner

2016 Mary Harriman Leadership Award Winner Martie Russel

The Junior League of Toronto

What can we say about Martie Russel?

She is a consummate leader and fundraiser.

She is a natural mentor, known far and wide for a willingness to share her skills and expertise. 

And she is an enthusiastic advocate for The Junior League and the value of voluntarism—not just within the Junior League of Toronto but also through the many community organizations and programs she supports.

There’s another thing you should know about Martie—she’s not afraid to tackle controversial issues.

After returning to Active status after being a Sustainer for many years, Martie was one of the drivers behind JLT’s Lifelong Membership Committee. Her compassionate and collaborative leadership style helped members embrace the changes that are critical to the League’s long term survival.  

In 1974 Martie was asked to be JLT’s representative on the board of Planned Parenthood. It had just become legal to provide birth control information in Canada, and there were many violently opposed to this change. Amid this turbulence, she helped to establish a health clinic for youth and made birth control information available to them.

In 1988, she became the Founding Director of Fife House, which provides supportive housing for people living with HIV/AIDS. Her leadership helped evolve Fife House from one residence, in a secret location that served five people, to an organization that now serves 500 people per year and provides 80% of the supportive housing for HIV/AIDS patients in Toronto.

In 1992, using her nursing skills and her Junior League training, she became a Founding Trustee for Wellspring. This Toronto agency provides, at no charge, a network of community-based cancer centers providing support and education to people who are coping with the non-medical side of cancer.

Martie also was at the forefront of the hospice movement in Toronto and is a founding director of The Toronto Commandery Hospice, where she is working hard to help raise $5 million to build a new hospice.

And to top it all off, Martie was an environmentalist pioneer. As a member of the Junior League of Erie, PA in the early 1970s, she challenged executives at the Hammermill Paper Company about their waste disposal system. Later, after moving to Toronto, she was a driver of the “Wipe Out Waste" program addressing pollution and recycling issues there. Looking back on an extraordinary League career, Martie says: “The value of my Junior League experience can be measured in many ways; however, two in particular have allowed me to grow personally: the friendships of 30 years, and the training which gave me the initial skill set and confidence to sit on community boards.”