Remembering a True Leader

posted May 31st, 2011 by Janet Graham - 4 Comments

When I first met Don Fullerton, I knew I was in the presence of a powerful man. It took me several years to recognize, I had been in the presence of a great leader. Fullerton had what all great leaders have, he had tremendous courage and profound integrity.


Don Fullerton was the Chairman of CIBC when he took on women’s issues. And he did it before doing so was cool.  He challenged his colleagues, his subordinates and his board to do the same and it was my privilege to witness it.


It was the early 90’s and I was part of something called the Committee on Women’s Issues which had been established with Fullerton’s support. The committee was challenged to work with a group of senior executives to come up with guidelines for the advancement of women at CIBC which Fullerton planned to take to the board and have entrenched by resolution.


He challenged the male senior executives who were to work with the committee to do what he recognized felt wrong to them and he told them he would replace them with people who would support the project, if they were unable to get comfortable with the recommendations being discussed.  He respected them and understood where they were coming from and at the same time, he wanted to do what he knew he had to do to move the bank forward, regardless of their reservations.


It was an awesome display of leadership. He was courageous and inspiring and I hadn’t seen this type of leadership before and sadly I haven’t seen it since.


Don Fullerton died on Sunday. I had intended to write a post about him and send it to him and I didn’t do it. I deeply regret it.


I will share this post with Don’s beautiful wife Judy with the hope she will share it with his children. I am fairly certain a strong man like Don Fullerton could be supremely challenging at times but I want his family to know the greatness I saw in him.


With great love and affection,




A celebration of Don’s life will be held at Grace Church On-The-Hill at 300 Lonsdale Road in Toronto on Wednesday, June 1 at 1 pm. If desired, donations may be made to St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation.


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4 Responses to “Remembering a True Leader”

Comment from Susan Fullerton
Time May 31, 2011 at 9:55 am

Dear Janet,
What a pleasant surprise to read your touching tribute to our father this morning.
There were so many facets to this amazing man – and yours came out of complete left field to me.
Don was my father-in-law, and even though we could not be more unalike in personality – I am an actress – need I say more? – we revelled in the same wicked sense of humour – my son Barrett will be speaking at the funeral – I know he will do dad proud.
Again – I shall pass this lovely missive off to the rest of the famille – hope to see you at the funeral.

Comment from Donald Cumming
Time May 31, 2011 at 10:06 am

Excellent tribute Janet. I also have grateful experience
with Fullerton. His support through tough times.
(Canary wharf as an example.) He did not duck his responsibility when he became committed to business.

Comment from Cathy Riggall
Time May 31, 2011 at 10:18 am

Thank you for doing this Janet. I too remember Don’s courage on women’s issues. I vividly remember standing at the back of the room at a VP’s meeting ( before I became a VP) and hearing Don challenge the team. His comment “I find it hard to believe, that in an organization where 78% of the employees are women, only two are qualified to be vice presidents. I want this changed !” caused those of us who heard it to cheer silently and take hope that things would change. They did, and he has to get a lot of the credit.

Comment from Susan Crocker
Time May 31, 2011 at 4:26 pm


You have really captured this important dimension of Don. He will certainly be remembered for his vast and more traditional contribution to CIBC and the other companies he went on to serve. But this was a special moment in time where he knew what was right and he was going to engage his leadership in this important issue. The memories are flowing…remember using theatre to educate and change behavior?

A very special guy.

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