A forum for comments on FASD, sharing, life challenges, politics and other things that bother us. By GrampaBrian, FASD Advocate (AKA Brian Philcox)

Archive for January, 2015

The Good Old Days…

Bonnie & I usually have weekends that are just as busy as weekdays when we are coping with family issues, often families we have never met except online or on the phone. The relentless rollercoaster that our children who struggle with FASD get us to ride on never seems to end and crisis times can occur at any moment. That’s why we are always ready to provide support to families and professionals 24/7.

But this past weekend was very different from the norm.

First, our 13 year-old granddaughter came for a sleepover visit. She is great company, helps with the household chores and keeps us up-to-date on what is happening in her life. Then, a long time buddy from navy days brought his young protege, who was in town for a swim meet, for dinner  and an overnight stay. John is my age but it’s usually a  few years between visits so, apart from phone calls in the meantime, it was a pleasure to catch up on our respective projects and health issues. The big treat was meeting the 12 year-old swimmer for whom John has provided support and guidance since he was a toddler. A perfect young gentleman, whose appetite for my salmon dinner was most gratifying, charmed us all.

Next day we had lunch at Melanie’s, our favourite bistro on the Danforth, with longtime friend and former work colleague Eleanor, her daughter Alia(who was our popular pregnant model in our recent Baby Bump Campaign), son-in-law Tom and granddaughter Aaro. At 21 months, baby Aaro kept us all distracted with her animated expressions and her new-found attempts at conversation. The main purpose of our luncheon was to share the wedding portrait and wedding books I had produced from the Tomalia nuptials of last August. Happy to say, these were well received. This family is very much an extension of our own as Eleanor and I have been friends for close to 30 years, along with Alia and her brother Marco (now married & father of young Luke in Calgary) throughout their growing up years. We still miss husband and father Luke, who died a few years ago.

What struck me today was the wonderful warmth of these friendships that Bonnie & I cherish so much. These are truly the good old days.

The Beer Store: A Political Satire (Not!)

Satire can be a wonderful leveling agent: pricking the pompous; deflating the pious. Yet, to be truly effective, it must be deft, clever and relevant. Charlie Hebdo may have been all of these, but I’m not very familiar with that body of work.

What I did see yesterday was a full page editorial in the Jan. 10/15 Globe and Mail that branded itself, The Beer Store: A Political Satire. If you have to identify an item thus, is it truly satire or merely mockery?

Based on the underlying  assumption that The Beer Store is a total cock-up, the editorial suggests that if this enterprise is so great, wouldn’t it be droll to use the same business formula for grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores and so on. Now I have no brief for the brewers’ warehouse operation but I’m finding the discussion around this subject rather specious. What the writer doesn’t seem to be aware of is the fact that beer – along with other beverage alcohol products – is a teratogen* that requires management and control. Whether the public should be able to buy beer anywhere, in any size container is moot. The real issue is whether anyone, at any age, in any condition can buy beer at any time.

Beverage alcohol may be abused and, as a semi-controlled substance, The Beer Store provides a reasonable, well-managed, safe delivery system. I have no interest in beer or any other beverage alcohol being delivered by a kid on a bike to a home address for anyone who has simply phoned in the order.

Cheap booze will never serve society well. Although alcohol sales provide important revenues to our provincial and federal governments, we may be well advised to match those revenues against the health, education and justice system costs of dealing with alcohol abuse.

Do we really need to have alcohol available in every corner store? Do the cravings of some of us demand that brewers, distillers and vintners set up delivery systems for every single retail outlet that wants it? Will every one of those outlets provide the same kinds of variety and safe management process we now get from The Beer Store and the LCBO?

The Beer Store has always been run by the major brewers in Canada. The fact that our major breweries are now foreign owned is a factor of globalization and consolidation of organizations for optimum profit. Isn’t that what our so-called free enterprise capitalist system is supposed to be about? The fact that the media are now complaining about a situation that has been well-established for decades seems a little hypocritical, don’t you think? Or do they all just want cheap booze?

*Teratogen: a neurotoxin that inhibits brain cell development and the neuropathways of the brain.

Culture, anyone?

Whenever I think I have become too immersed in scholarly works on FASD, and, occasionally polemics by drinkers who insist on misleading women that there is little or no risk to “light” drinking in pregnancy, I feel as though I should indulge in some trashy, fun reading. Reading is my drug of choice as it can transport me to another place, pushing concerns of the day out of mind, and there is never any hangover.

As it turns out, I actually read a few books in 2014: some I finished and some I never will. Here are my favourites:

The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden. I first encountered the term ‘Orenda’ several years ago when I was looking for a neutral word for the concept of god. In a book called Word Dance by Carl Waldman, I came across this definition: orenda – Iroquoian for the magic power, force of energy, or spirit in every being or object. This summarized, for me, the essence of what it is to be human and what the concept of god is within me. Also, having a longstanding interest in the indigenous peoples of North America, I was drawn to Boyden’s novel. Based on intensive research about the Wyandot/Hurons and the Iroquois he has written a compelling story about our relative cultural idiosyncrasies and reminds us how colonial exploitation of aboriginal peoples continues to this day.

The Heart of Everything That Is by Bob Drury & Tom Clavin. Another look at North American indigenous people, this is the story of Red Cloud, a Sioux warrior-statesman. A contemporary of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, Red Cloud had significantly more impact on US government issues and the encroaching migrations of the colonizing Europeans as they broke treaties and overwhelmed native communities across the plains of the US. A well-told historical tale.

The Celts by Peter Berresford Ellis. I have long been fascinated by the cultural contributions of the Celts, especially because I have Scots/Irish ancestry. This latest look at the Celts, published in 2003, does a more comprehensive job than a previous book by the same name by historian Nora Chadwick. Unlike the conquering Romans, who actually had much to learn from the Celts, Ellis gives us a clear picture of the broad scope of Celtic culture and how it influenced the Christian ethos that followed and absorbed it. A great contribution to those of us with a Celtic heritage, which is most of us with European roots. I liked Ellis’ definition of mythology: It is a sacred tradition embracing a whole set of concepts covering the philosophical beliefs of a given culture. As Canadians or Americans we are not immune to our contemporary mythologies.

Zealot by Reza Azlan. This is Azlan’s treatise on Jesus Christ as a political operative, part of a group known as The Zealots, who were dedicated to the expulsion of the Roman overlords in what was then Palestine. Apparently, there were numerous messianic types in the country at the time and Jesus happened to be one of those who was caught and executed for what the Roams considered seditious behaviour. This fits a narrative that attributed god qualities to Jesus many decades after his ignominious death, led by evangelists and a charismatic proselytiser called Saul of Tarsus, better known as St. Paul. These were the creators of what became the Christian religion but who had never met the man himself.

Azlan had previously written a book about Islam called No god but God. Having read Zealot and considering the ferment of Islamist activities around the world, I wanted a better understanding of this major religion. It is a slight document and reminded me of bible stories for children – basically fables for the immature.

Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas L. Friedman. Published long before Naomi Klein’s recent book about climate change, This Changes Everything, it is a valuable, less polemical introduction to the need for all societies to adopt an electron culture and to ease away from a carbon culture. A complex but comprehensive overview of the energy issues facing mankind today, it is a study to be consumed in digestible portions.

The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein.  Klein’s book caused a sensation when it was published but I only got around to reading it recently. It is truly a shocking indictment of the military/industrial/corporatist complex that, with the aid of the CIA, IMF, World Bank and the Chicago School of Economics as espoused by Milton Friedman, third world countries have succumbed to the domination of US led corporations. Wealth has been sucked out of these countries so that the value of local resources has accrued primarily to American enterprises. What may be most worrisome for Canadians is how much Prime Minister Harper’s agenda appears to emulate that of the US. Harper is a petty player but he does love to obscure self-serving legislation in his many omnibus bills in the Parliament the Conservatives dominate. Unfortunately, we can’t count on the Supreme Court of Canada to catch every new law that is unconstitutional. So, Canadians, be aware and be wary.

Crazy Town by Robyn Doolittle. The sad saga of Rob Ford, Mayor of Toronto, reads like a fast-paced thriller that is, unfortunately, not fiction. Doolittle was the intrepid Toronto Star reporter (she’s since moved over to The Globe & Mail) who covered city hall while Ford carried out his self-confessed felonious shenanigans. Thoroughly documented, you will discover activities you probably missed during Ford’s incumbency. What is equally upsetting is that the city has no simple mechanism for getting rid of such a miscreant.

FASDay 2014 Media Report

The Birth of the Baby Bump Campaign

What happens when a client isn’t afraid to take risks and great creative isn’t watered down? When talented, passionate individuals leave their egos behind and come together for a cause? When a simple, bold creative execution gets the attention and the support of a government institution? The result: a campaign that cuts through the clutter and captures attention, increases awareness, changes behaviour and literally saves lives.

The Cause

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) are the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. Yet, they are 100% preventable…by abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy. However, every day, there are more babies born with FASD than HIV, Down Syndrome and Spina Bifida combined. So, the challenge is how to raise awareness and help educate moms-to-be about the prevention of FASD?

September 9th marked the 15th anniversary of International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day. The first FASDay was celebrated on 9/9/99.  The ninth day of the ninth month was chosen as a reminder that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from alcohol. This year, proclamations were issued and bells were rung at 9:09 a.m. in every time zone from New Zealand to Alaska. People in 42 countries around the world gathered for events to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy.

In Toronto, hundreds of people sporting pregnant bellies (balloons under their t-shirts) descended upon the scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas on Tuesday, September 9th at 9:00 a.m. for a “pregnant pause”. With the help of social media and interviews on Metro Morning, News Talk 1010, CBC, CITY –TV and METRO, more than 70 million impressions were generated.

The Client

Bonnie Buxton and Brian Philcox are adoptive parents of Colette Philcox and co-founders of FASworld and International FASD Awareness Day. Colette was diagnosed with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder in 1999 and since then, Bonnie and Brian have made it their life’s mission to help shed some light on the topic and “change the world, one baby at a time”.

In addition to starting FASD Awareness Day, Bonnie and Brian have worked tirelessly to educate professionals, government representatives, media and the general public about the challenges of living with FASD. They have been invited to speak on the subject at hundreds of events, conferences and workshops around the globe. Bonnie also shared their personal story in her book Damaged Angels: A Mother Discovers the Terrible Cost of Alcohol in Pregnancy, published by Random House in 2004.

As former marketing professionals (Bonnie was a copywriter at Vickers and Benson in Montreal and Brian was a marketing executive for Dupont Canada when they first met in 1963), they agreed that there was a need for a new, fresh approach to getting their message out.

“We called upon our family friend, Tony Miller, Executive Creative Director at Anderson DDB in Toronto,” Brian says. “He was working with art director Boris Matas at the time. And although they didn’t deliver exactly on what we originally asked, the campaign they presented was far better than we could have ever imagined. Their idea was bold, yet simple and powerful. We instantly fell in love with the creative.”

The Creative

When Boris was briefed on the assignment, he remembers asking, “Why didn’t I know about the risks of drinking alcohol during pregnancy?” He quickly realized that most of the general population didn’t know either. He wanted to capture public attention, by celebrating the natural beauty of pregnancy, focusing on the optimism and happiness that transcends race, religion, or gender – and stay away from alarmist messages of fear, shame and blame.  His solution… have everyday people interact with placards that highlight words like: LOVE, HOPE, JOY and MOM with a naked baby bump in place of the ‘O’. The images were accompanied with a clear message: Love your body. Love your baby. Don’t drink while pregnant. The campaign featured both still and video photography courtesy of Philip Roston and music provided by Dante Matas.

The fresh, sassy creative immediately garnered attention. Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (MOFAS) did a mass advertising campaign that included transit shelters, billboards, magazine wraps and a 30-second TV spot. California and Alaska have also reached out to FASworld Canada, expressing interest in the campaign. The campaign has also won several awards including shortlist recognition at the recent Clio Awards in New York.

“Brian and I have worked together on various projects since we met in 1963,” says Bonnie. “Outside of coming up with the idea of International FASD Awareness Day in 1999, Baby Bump is by far the best campaign we’ve ever worked on!”

The Collaboration

Brian and Bonnie then partnered with Morgan Ramsay Glowienka Inc. (MR. G Advertising), who designed and produced all of the campaign material, including posters, a website and video. But, as a not-for-profit organization, FASworld needed the support of a corporate partner to help launch the campaign. Brian and Bonnie approached the LCBO and presented the new campaign idea to Elizabeth Kruzel D’Cunha, Senior Policy Advisor/Coordinator, Social Responsibility and Government Relations. “She was really the driving force behind getting LCBO to commit to the Baby Bump Campaign,” says Brian.

LCBO collaborated with FASworld to develop a comprehensive campaign that included focus group testing, exterior signage, decals on shopping carts and at checkout counters in all 647 LCBO stores in Ontario. It also featured the creative in the autumn issue of Food & Drink magazine and a mandatory training video for all employees.

“With the support of LCBO, together with the help of Toronto Public Health, Children’s Aid Society, and many other youth-oriented social agencies, the annual FASD Awareness Day was bigger and better than ever,” says Brian. “Everyone came together to make it a huge success.”

The Consequence

With over two hundred media mentions, the campaign has generated over 70 million audience impressions. A week after FASD Awareness Day, the campaign was still being profiled in the news. A Toronto mother had taken offence to the message and vented on Facebook. Global TV did a follow-up interview with her, as well as a doctor and a spokesperson from the LCBO – both of whom reiterated the risks of drinking while pregnant. This spurred additional buzz online, including a blog post on Huffington Post. Although some clients may have been concerned about the negative backlash, Bonnie and Brian welcomed the fact that the conversation about FASD was still going on.

“The campaign creative, coupled with the record number of participants at the Pregnant Pause event, helped us garner media attention,” says Brian. “That has gotten people to talk about FASD like never before.”

One can’t attribute the outcome of the Baby Bump campaign to a single reason. Instead, there was a confluence of factors that contributed to its success:

  • A cause that is often misunderstood and yet affects the lives of 1 in 100 Canadians;
  • A client who was willing to take risks and trust their partners;
  • A compelling creative solution that was bold, simple and effectively cut through the clutter to get attention;
  • A collaborative partnership between public and private sector;
  • A team who was willing to check their egos at the door and work together to make a difference.

It was a perfect PR storm that resulted in a campaign that keeps on giving.

During my career, I’ve had the honour of working on about a dozen ‘feel good’ campaigns that were born out of true collaboration, inspired creativity and a client that was willing to take risks. These opportunities are few and far between, so be sure to take a pregnant pause, to appreciate and celebrate them when you find them.

By Danielle D’Agostino

Danielle is a freelance public relations consultant who has been helping her clients share their stories for more than 20 years. She can be reached at 905-274-7337 or Danielle.v.dagostino@gmail.com

2014 Review

December, 2014           ANNUAL REPORT

What an extraordinary year! Our focus continues to be on convincing women and their partners to avoid alcohol when planning and during pregnancy. 2014 has been a breakthrough year for FASworld’s ongoing communication message about the devastating scope and cost of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)*.

Baby Bump Campaign: Two years ago, a brilliant creative team was convened by Tony Miller, Executive Creative Director of Anderson DDB Advertising. Supporting Tony at that time was Steve Morgan of Mr. G. Advertising (then known as Soda & Tonic Advertising) and freelance creative genius Boris Matas. Currently at Mr. G we are supported by key executives Susan Ramsay, Chris Glowienka, Mike Pelchovitz and Bruno Mackay. Along with their skilled staff, they are completing a total redesign of our fasworld.com website so that it may be more readily followed on smart phones and tablets. Under the creative inspiration of Boris, our key campaign has been aptly titled “The Baby Bump Program”.

LOVE button

We wanted our message to be as positive and upbeat as possible in order to get acceptance and understanding from our key audiences. The campaign espoused MOM, HOPE, JOY and LOVE and was quickly adopted by MOFAS (Minnesota Organization on FAS) and promoted widely throughout the state in the spring of 2014. Over late August and early September of this year – to coincide with the 16th international FASDay – the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) provided signage and handout materials throughout its 647 stores across Ontario. Further enquiries have been received from Alaska, California and Tennessee for permission to use the Baby Bump Campaign which we license for a fee based on the size of the market.

FASDay: Since creating International FASD Awareness Day in 1999, we have seen its observance grow until FASDay is now seen in every time zone around the world on Sept. 9 in 42 countries and counting. As a result of our collaboration with LCBO, local Toronto media has finally acknowledged our annual event and we received extensive coverage this year in spite of the usual overlap with the media-devouring Toronto International Film Festival. Please see the separate report from our media relations counsel, Danielle D’Agostino.


DSC_2784 DSC_2779

FASworld Toronto: Currently meeting monthly at Sick Children’s Hospital, our family FASD support group has been providing counselling and comfort to families reeling from the outcome of foster, adoption and birth children with diagnoses of FAS and ARND since 1998. Several years ago we obtained charitable status for FASworld Toronto (FWT) and more recently for FASworld Canada (FWC). Because the two organizations are so closely linked, we have agreed to keep charitable status with FWC and allow the FWT support group to continue as an independent, volunteer-run organization. A newly constituted FWC board of directors will provide oversight and guidance for FWT as well as for all other FASworld affiliates here in Canada and abroad. Family support groups who follow the FASworld commitment to its mission and vision are welcome to apply for affiliate status and to use “FASworld” in their name. There is no charge for this application but permission must be requested from the FWC Board of Directors.

Although FWC became a federally constituted organization in 2002, a general meeting was called in 2011 to review its constitution and by-laws. This took place in Salmon Arm, BC that year and a Board of Directors was duly elected from among those who had expressed an interest in serving and who wanted to participate in the election process. Since then, several directors have resigned and a new slate will be offered to the membership in the new year. Bonnie and Brian will continue to offer their services in the nomination process and will be looking for a suitable succession-planning process as time goes on.

NOFAS Leadership Award: FASworld became the Canadian affiliate of NOFAS this year. At the summer affiliate conference in Washington DC, Bonnie & Brian received the NOFAS 25th Anniversary Leadership award for their pioneering work creating international awareness of FASD. The theme of the Annual NOFAS Gala in the Fall was International FASD Awareness day created by FASworld. Hearty congratulations came from former US Senator Tom Daschle and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski.

 Tom Donaldson, Pres. of NOFAS and spokesperson Kathy Mitchell present Bonnie & Brian with the NOFAS 2014 Leadership Award.


Sponsorships: MOFAS and LCBO have been the major sponsors of our Baby Bump Campaign this year but we also gratefully acknowledge significant financial support or professional services from the following:

  • McBurney Family Trust
  • Boris Creative.com
  • Anderson DDB Health & Lifestyle
  • Ledgley Law
  • Mr. G Advertising
  • Instil Productions
  • Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (Ontario)
  • Dante Matas Music
  • Peggy Oba at FASIN
  • Plus numerous family memorial donations

FASworld has always been run by volunteers and operating expenses have been covered by donations, workshop fees and sales of such items as books and FASKnot lapel pins. The organization has never had core funding and relies upon the goodwill of so many generous individuals, agencies and companies. Without them FWC would not survive and this critical work would remain undone.

On the Family Front: This was a very positive year for the Buxton/Philcox families. Apart from the honour received from NOFAS, we were pleased to see that Colette continued to sustain a strong motivation to parent her children as effectively as she could – with particular emphasis on maintaining equilibrium for Kenny who continues to struggle with his ARND deficits. Colette has shown that she is a valiant mother for her children ensuring that they are receiving the appropriate care and supports from the medical community and from each of their schools. Vicky continues to work part-time at the horse farm where she is devoted to the animals. Her ambition is to study as a vet and we think that she could handle that program very well. Cleo has also maintained a steady relationship with her current partner Joe who also has a similarly fragile personality as she. In spite of normal ups and downs in their relationship, they continue to support each other and we look forward to them finding projects that will take them beyond the narrow scope of their lives.

Brian’s right hip reached the point of no return so replacement surgery took place at the end of September. Bonnie’s foot and knee issues were a big distraction but they both soldier on with the aim of finding suitable successors to take over FASworld in the years to come.

*Cost of FASD in Canada: Although many experienced diagnosticians and other clinicians now estimate that the incidence of FASD may be as high as 3-5%, by using the official Health Canada count of 1% of live births, we are looking at as many as 350,000 Canadians who are currently struggling with some form of this disability. We estimate that the lifetime costs for each of these individuals at $2 million for health issues, special education, welfare and criminal justice. This represents a total of over $600 billion (roughly equivalent to the national debt) of unbudgeted cost to society. This does not include the anguish and social disruption costs to families and other loved ones.

Dec. 18/14; updated Jan.2/15