A donor who dedicated her life to environmental sustainability – not to mention, family, friends, and anything that got her laughing – makes a remarkable gift.
Toni Frisby passed away in 2017, age 60, leaving a generous – and surprise – gift to Tides Canada in her estate. We talk to some of the people closest to her to learn more about the remarkable woman she was, and what might have inspired her generosity.
By all accounts, Toni Frisby was one of a kind.
“You could just feel the positive energy radiating out of her,” says Wendy Frisby, Toni’s sister-in-law (married to Toni’s brother Mike) and her close friend of nearly five decades. “She always had a laugh and warm hug for people.”
“For me, Toni’s best trait was her sense of humour,” says Jane Thomson, Toni’s best friend since grade 5. “She could always find something to laugh about, and she’d laugh at herself often. She had this giant laugh. I miss that!”
Born in Edmonton in 1956, Toni Frisby grew up spending summers with her parents and brother Mike on Vancouver Island, the two siblings often “running the beaches of Cowichan” as kids. As a young teen, Jane says, Toni was already demonstrating an independent streak and a love of nature. After high school, she signed up for two tree planting seasons. “You have to understand that planting trees in Northern Alberta is hard work,” Mike laughs. “You need some real love for things green to do that!”
Soon Toni was kicking off a life-long interest in travel, starting with a solo-backpacking trek across Australia and New Zealand (followed later by kayaking trips in Patagonia and Haida Gwaii, and hiking on Baffin Island). She got a geography degree at the University of Victoria, and then a Master’s in Environmental Studies with a focus on water management at the University of Waterloo.
Her career began in the 1980s working at an outdoor education centre in Ontario, where she taught thousands of urban children about ecological sustainability and wilderness survival. She then worked in Sault Ste. Marie for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, translating science and policy into education programs for frontline staff. “She had a very strong environmental ethic, she was very warm and committed, and everyone just loved Toni,” says Bev Robson, Toni’s supervisor at the Ministry, who later became one of Toni’s close, lifelong friends.
By the mid-1990s, a job offer brought Toni to North Vancouver. By then, Wendy and Mike, and Jane, had all settled there too – and living close to them was a huge part of the appeal.
It was in North Van that Toni made some of her life’s greatest contributions – in her career and as a human being. She founded a running group, the North Shore Lemmings, and for 20 years led the group in twice-weekly runs. Whenever someone was new, Toni would run or walk with them, making sure they felt included.
Her personal relationships were everything. There were large “Frisby Family Dinners” where Toni was integral. There was her unparalleled dedication to her niece and nephew, Kelly and Ben (Wendy and Mike’s children), and to Jane’s children, Andrew and Maddie, too. Toni was the type of person who always had your back. “It was a given,” says Mike, “If you needed someone, she was the first person you called. Toni would be there.”
In B.C., Toni made an indelible contribution towards environmental protection. After stints as an environmental manager for the Vancouver Airport and Terasen Gas, she joined Western Canada Marine Response, an organization contracted by the BC government to handle oil spill responses in coastal and navigable inland waters. She later founded her own consulting business doing similar work.
It was tough, bringing diverse groups together to develop and execute a response plan, particularly under the massive scrutiny and time pressures that accompany most marine spills. But by all accounts, Toni was an extraordinary leader and facilitator; in several high profile cases (for example, the MV Marthassa bunker oil spill in 2015), she and her team were lauded for their quick and highly effective work in limiting damage. In one of her final career highlights, she drafted a strategic plan to guide the province’s marine spill first responders in the future, something she was very proud of.
When cancer struck, as it sadly did (and much too soon), Toni faced it head on, with Jane, Wendy, and Mike as her caregivers. After she passed away, hundreds of people came to her celebration of life, dressed in colourful clothing to honour her personality. Many guests – including some of those closest to her – were surprised to learn about Toni’s legacy of environmental contributions. Toni, it seems, despite her vibrant personality, was quite modest about her achievements.
That wasn’t Toni’s only surprise. In her will, she left large unrestricted donations to three charities, including Tides Canada. It was an extraordinary legacy gift – and one that came as a surprise for both Tides Canada and the people closest to her. Toni had never mentioned the organization to Mike, Wendy, or Jane before.
“But as we learned more, we were smiling, going ‘Oh yeah, this is why she chose them,’” says Wendy. “The way Tides Canada works matches her so well. Toni was a connector and a collaborator, she was community-oriented, and she saw the value in bringing even opposing stakeholders together.”
“As soon as I learned more about Tides Canada, I said, ‘This is perfect for Toni. It’s such a fit,’” says Jane. “She would have done her research, she probably knew [all about the organization]. There was a lot of trust there.”
“She always worked hard to have an understanding of all sides of an issue and bring together different people. Her approach was always, ‘let’s find a solution that makes it better for everyone.’ That’s something I really admired about her,” says Mike.
And so do we.
Tides Canada would like to thank the many members of the Frisby and Thomson families, along with Bev Robson, for sharing Toni’s story with us.
By leaving a gift to Tides Canada in her will, Toni has made a lasting impact that will help ensure a sustainable future for all Canadians and enable community-led change. We are so proud to honour Toni’s memory by using her gift to continue the work she was so passionate about in life. For more information, please see the legacy giving page on our website.