nabs, McCann Canada announce Peter Vaz Memorial Scholarship

McCann Canada and nabs have created a memorial scholarship honouring Peter Vaz, the former vice-president, director of channel engagement at McCann. Vaz died on Oct. 9 after being diagnosed with ALS in February of 2017.

The Peter Vaz Memorial Scholarship was created to help new members of the digital industry. It will be awarded each year to applicants looking to advance their digital careers, with the first application window opening in January. A panel of industry professionals will review the submissions.

Vaz spent more than 25 years in the Canadian marketing industry, and is remembered as one of the earliest champions of digital media in Canada and his for his lifelong commitment to learning (which included returning to school to obtain his MBA).

During a YouTube livestream event on the first-ever nabs Day in 2017, Vaz recalled how his interest in digital was piqued during the earliest days of the internet in 1994-95. “I was really curious about the internet and its role in communications and especially media,” he said. “With the support of my bosses, I got really involved in it. And I guess the rest is history.”

He recalled working with vendors ranging from digital natives like Facebook and Google to traditional media companies like Bell and Rogers. “We did programs that were on the cutting-edge,” he said during the nabs Day presentation. “It’s been an amazing journey.”

“Peter was a leader, a business driver and an all-round wonderful human being,” said McCann Canada president Ryan Timms in a release announcing the scholarship. “He spent 23 years with the McCann and Mediabrands family. And, over those two decades, Peter went above and beyond for his team and for our industry. Every single one of us who had the opportunity to work with and get to know him are better off for it. We are proud to continue Peter’s legacy and impact through the establishment of this scholarship.”

During the nabs livestream, Vaz recalled how he started experiencing the symptoms of ALS. “I couldn’t walk in a straight line,” he recalled. “They sent me home the first time, and then the next time I had to go through a bunch of tests.” One of those tests, he said, was to determine if he had a motor neuron disease.

“I Googled it, like anybody would, and what I learned was not pleasant,” he said. “I was shocked, because it was something that had given me a timeline, being terminal. At the same time, I said ‘I’ve got this opportunity to live the days I have left the best way I can.’

“It’s not easy, because your mind is fine, your senses are fine, but your body is not,’ he added. “Your muscles don’t listen to your brain. You’re constrained to using the help of others.”

Nabs became a key resource for Vaz and his family after his diagnosis. Among its most tangible contributions were building a concrete ramp and other renovations intended to make his house more accessible, since Vaz’s wish was to receive care at home.

But the organization also worked to provide non-tangible support. “More than just paying for things like that, and getting them done quickly and properly, we created a circle around Peter to help with the other needs he will have moving forward—financial consulting, counselling and emotional support,” said nabs executive director Jay Bertram.

“Working closely with Peter over the past two years following his diagnosis, I became very aware of what an ALS diagnosis means,” said Louise Berube, director of allocations and services at nabs, in the release.

“Peter’s awareness, acceptance, good heart and courage were shining examples of [his] ability to move forward. Peter took charge of his diagnosis, using the best of technology, and lived life to the fullest. His sense of humour and smile served him well until his last moments.

“This scholarship honours Peter’s many qualities that were admired by all who came in contact with him throughout his career in our industry.”

Asked during the nabs livestream how he was living with ALS, Vaz acknowledged it was extraordinarily difficult. Yet he was also sanguine about his diagnosis and the time he had left.

“Once I got over the shock, I realized that I could have [been] hit by a bus and gone in a day,” he said. “Here I have a chance to live another day and do the best I can. I want to live every day I have left to the fullest.”

Donations in Vaz’s memory and to continue his scholarship’s legacy can be made here.

Chris Powell