Debi Pratt is known for her decades of leading public relations and marketing for Inniskillin Wines, but also for being one of the strongest supporters and promoters of the Niagara wine industry as a whole, as it grew and flourished to become the industry it is today.
She has been recognized twice with lifetime achievement awards, and last week was named citizen of the year at the Chamber of Commerce Spirt of Niagara award ceremony, in recognition of her widespread volunteer involvement in many community projects.
Called the Lord Mayor’s Award of Excellence, it was presented to her by Lord Mayor Betty Disero, who has worked with her on several projects and considers her a friend, and someone she will go to for advice.
Previous award-winners have been recognized for a range of worthwhile pursuits, assisting in community projects, raising funds for charitable causes, or generally making life better for residents, said Disero.
“Some have been recognized for their contributions to heritage preservation, for years of volunteer work, or for their service to the public.”
Pratt has been involved in all of those, she said. “Throughout the years, she has been tapped on the shoulder for worthwhile pursuits, community projects, fundraising and generally making life better for our residents. She has never refused and always willing to lend a helping hand.”
“As a resident of our dear town,” Disero said, Pratt “has never stepped away from helping out where there are issues to be addressed. She was part of the Town committees dealing with the ongoing issue of parking and this year was a leader in creating our authentic natural Christmas decor.”
And on a personal note, said the lord mayor, “she is someone I go to for advice and as a sounding board, when I need guidance. I appreciate her steady, logical thinking, her cool head and her inclusive manner.”
Speaking after the award ceremony, Disero said it was not surprising that Pratt spoke of the accomplishments of others who were also recipients, including Owen Bjorgan for his youth leadership award.
“Debi is the most selfless person I have ever known,” Disero said.
“She is always giving, never asking for anything in return. She just wants to do good, for the betterment of her community.”
Pratt told the gathering she had been an elementary school teacher at the old Line # Brockview School, and then at Laura Secord Memorial School in Queenston. She has taught many local kids, now adults, and asked those in the room to stand up, congratulating them too on how well they have done.
Her teaching career has continued, although along a different path. “I went from teaching students how to read, to teaching people how to drink.”
But although she joked about the educational component of the wine industry, she has continued to talk to students at Brock University and Niagara College, and has mentored many along the way.
She also spoke of her days on the Chamber committee that administered the awards in its early days, leading to the spirit awards now given out annually.
“We recognized those who gave their hearts and souls” to their community, and their expertise, to keep the town “vibrant, sustainable and proud.”
Giving back to the community, she said, “is so simple. Pay attention, and when you see someone in your neighbourhood who needs help, when you see something in your neighbourhood that needs help, you step up. The people who are here tonight have done that,” she said.
“I’m so proud to be a citizen of Niagara-on-the-Lake, along with citizen of the year.”