Accounting and Financial Women's Alliance

Paula Zanni Award

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In December 2009, we lost a member of the Mesa East Valley chapter, a great friend and the spirit of AFWA when Paula Zanni passed away unexpectedly. It was then I found out that part of my leadership responsibilities include breaking bad news to our members. As hard as those phone calls were, as hard as it was to write announcements about a lost friend, the hardest part is still to come. Somehow we still have to run this chapter, plan meetings and events, greet new colleagues with a smile, and provide value to our members. I’m not quite sure on the how, but I do know the why. Why – because AFWA was so important to Paula. So we keep going.

I wanted to share a few memories and the positive impact Paula has had on the American Society of Women Accountants. After moving to Phoenix, Paula first heard about AFWA from a local Robert Half office and decided to attend a meeting. A year later, she ran into one of our charter members at Costco. Cindy had remembered Paula’s name and encouraged her to attend another meeting. Paula finally joined in August 2002 and quickly became active with the board. I didn’t realize she was only a member for a few months when I joined. I think by that time she had already taken over membership – only the first of her many AFWA leadership roles. The shy quiet accountant stereotype may fit some of us, but certainly not Paula. She was outgoing and never hesitated to walk up to someone she didn’t know and introduce herself. She just had a way to make you feel comfortable and welcomed.

I missed a lot of meetings those first few years while I earned my MBA. Before I had even graduated, I got a call from Paula asking if I would like to serve on her board. I would have some extra time without school and was happy to get involved with AFWA. I thought “no problem – I can take notes” and volunteered for chapter secretary. One problem – I forgot you had to read the minutes the following month. Suddenly the quietest member of our chapter had to speak up. As President, Paula led our chapter in our first real steps into making a name for ourselves. We signed up for a booth at the Arizona Women’s Expo and spent an April weekend watching and talking to hundreds of women about AFWA, networking, scholarships and leadership skills. We even got a new member for our efforts. It took a dedicated group of us to make it happen, but Paula seemed to make it okay for our small chapter to think big. Her theme for that year was Growth. While our numbers may not have reflected this accomplishment, her members did. Since then I have followed Paula’s footsteps serving several chapter board and committee positions. Without her taking a chance on me I would never have made it to President.  Last spring I had the pleasure of returning the favor when I asked her to serve as my Secretary – after all it was only fair.

Like many of our members, I have benefited so much from Paula’s leadership, encouragement and friendship. She had been gently pushing me to take the next step to Regional Director. My answer has been “I’m a little busy this year, but I’ll think about it”. Over the years there have been planning meetings, board meetings and most importantly our fun meetings. Last April she was our personal tour guide of the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens. For the last three years she has been there to keep me from going crazy at our chapter’s one day seminar –getting registration information ready, filling in for introductions when my voice wasn’t there, and getting the break-out rooms set up correctly at the last minute. Together we have attended several national conferences, even serving as chapter delegates. We were the only two members from Mesa able to attend the Regional Conference in Flagstaff and enjoyed the keynote session at a beautiful outside lunch. I wouldn’t have missed attending the Regional Conference in Phoenix and see her installed on the National Board along with Stacey and Cheryl. Our chapter and Arizona were lucky to be represented so well.

As Regional Director, Paula wanted something more for the position. It wasn’t structured very well and the RD’s didn’t have a good place in the organization. Her feedback to Stacey helped shape the current Regional Director role and our entire organization is better for it. As National Director she was excited to serve on the Membership Committee along with Cheryl. There is no limit to what she could have accomplished.

Paula thought so much of AFWA that she would stop to talk to everyone about it and try to recruit new members. While driving back from that first National Conference in Las Vegas, she was apparently going a little too fast and was pulled over along with another car. Paula only received a warning, yet still had the composure to ask the officer if he knew anyone that might be interested in joining the American Society of Women Accountants. Proof that she was an excellent choice for Regional and National Director. And possibly part of the reason we chose to fly to Las Vegas for the 2009 National Conference.

Last June, Paula wanted to do something special to recognize our chapter leaders. At our installation meeting, she presented me, along with our past presidents, each with an AFWA president’s pin. She looked forward to the day when our meetings were a sea of gold. This June, I will continue our new tradition when I present Anna with her own President’s pin.

There are still some big dreams left to fulfill and our members will have to work that much harder to achieve them without her. Our chapter will never be the same. No one can replace Paula or even come close to filling her shoes, but at least she left us with some good footprints to follow.

For anyone who has known Paula for very long this loss is so unexpected and unbelievable. She managed to fill her life with the things she loved – her family & friends, career, AFWA, softball, soccer, and even found time to serve her HOA board. We can all learn from her example. To help us share her commitment to AFWA, several members are working on a scholarship in Paula’s name. These contributions will allow us to ensure her effort to help women accountants achieve their full personal, professional and economic potential continues for years to come.