Health minister Greg Hunt has led the heartfelt tributes to Donna Staunton, executive director of the National Pharmaceutical Services Association and managing director of The Strategic Counsel, who passed away late last week.
Donna was well-known, highly regarded and respected in Canberra, as well as across the Australian corporate and non-government sectors, having served in a variety of roles for a number of organisations.
As executive director of the NPSA, she was the current chair of the Medicines Partnership of Australia, the organisation established by the peak representative bodies of Australia’s pharmaceutical supply chain.
"I am deeply sorry to hear of Donna's passing,” said Mr Hunt.
“She was a wonderful advocate for the pharmacy, wholesaling and medicines sector.
“More importantly still, she was an amazing human being - utterly decent, good natured and a generous spirit."
Labor senator Claire Moore said she was “deeply saddened” by news of Donna’s passing.
“Her energy, professionalism and genuine interest in the clients and causes she championed always impressed. I really enjoyed working with her - she always provided effective information with a distinctly Donna touch,” said Senator Moore.
Donna founded The Strategic Counsel and built the organisation with Howard government health minister Dr Michael Wooldridge and former Medicines Australia executive Donna Edman.
Their clients cover virtually the full gamut of Australia’s health system.
Dr Wooldridge, who will speak at Wednesday’s funeral service, was a confidante and close friend for two decades. He was with the family, at her bedside, when Donna passed away. He said he was not surprised by the number and heartfelt nature of the tributes, given the impact Donna had on people, particularly young women.
“She was a remarkable person. I remember the feedback after one presentation she did to young women medical researchers. It was that they wanted to be Donna, not be liked her, but be her,” he said.
”Anyone in Donna Staunton’s sparkling company felt they are the only ones and all that matters, because they were truly heard,” said Donna Edman.
“Donna was a beguiling, clever advocate who trained her laser intellect, hawke-like perception, flawless memory and feminine wiles to great effect. She was attracted to and played with power in all its forms. The lady had style.
“In your corner, Donna was a loyal den mother, ruthless negotiator with a relentless work ethic always reaching for higher, better, more. Donna was a commanding chair and multi-tasker extraordinaire who worked fast, bored quickly and didn’t suffer fools. Yet she also created time to provide wise counsel, mentor and nurse those with broken wings - and still get to the hairdresser.
“Donna was a charming, gracious host with quantum networks who delighted in bringing people together. She was spontaneous and cheeky. Simply because Donna enjoyed and expected the finer things of Life, the Universe manifested.
“That her world appeared untrammelled to her departure is exactly how she wanted it. Donna, you left high heels to fill,” said Ms Edman.
Hepatitis Australia president and the former first assistant secretary of the Department of Health’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Division, Felicity McNeill PSM, said, “Those of us who have sat across a table from Donna for many years were so sad to hear of her sudden passing.
“Through multiple negotiations, policy meetings and stakeholder forums, Donna consistently treated the people as she did the issues - with respect and humanity.
“Her breadth of experience across multiple areas showed in everything she did – she understood industry, communities, politics and bureaucracy and the points of harmony and weakness in their relationships with each other. She was first and foremost a pragmatist who recognised the need to reach an outcome that benefited the community, not just those in the room.
“Through the toughest of negotiations Donna was the person in industry you could always rely upon to still walk across the room to shake your hand and ask, ‘what’s next and how can I help?’ I personally will never forget that outreached hand.
“Many of us are better at what we do having worked with Donna, many more will be the poorer for the loss of her acumen, advocacy and commitment to the health sector.”
The pharmaceutical sector was united in its heartfelt tribute to Donna.
Mark Hooper, NPSA chair and CEO of Sigma Healthcare, said, "Donna and her firm The Strategic Counsel have played a pivotal role in supporting the NPSA over the past 2 years. This support has been invaluable during a time of great change in pharmacy.
“The thoughts and wishes of all the NPSA members are with Donna’s family at this difficult time.”
Belinda Wood, CEO of the Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Association, said Donna “set the benchmark for women in our industry” with her strong leadership, professionalism, attention to detail, and determination to deliver quality outcomes for her clients.
“But it was her personal style that most inspired me. Donna’s ability to connect with people, develop close and trusting relationships with humour, candour and grace was a rare quality. It is a quality I aim to replicate in my leadership style. I am, and will always be, grateful for the path she forged.”
Pharmacy Guild national president, George Tambassis, said, “Through her role with the NPSA representing the wholesalers, as well as her recent leadership of the Medicines Partnership of Australia, Donna made a significant contribution to the industry and to the patients it serves. On a personal note, I found Donna Staunton to be a lovely person and a pleasure to work with.”
“Donna was a committed advocate for the medicines sector who was a trusted adviser and much respected colleague for many. I have known her for over 20 years and she had a great ability to cross the political divide and achieve results for the many organisations she represented, including in the health sector,” added Guild executive director, David Quilty.
Medicines Australia chair and managing director of Boehringer Ingelheim, Wes Cook, said, “I held Donna in very high regard, as did senior staff at MA. We have all benefited from her generosity, guidance and advice over the years.
”She was always elegant, articulate, professional, driven and an exemplary leader, and will be sorely missed.
“The industry and wider healthcare sector are better for having known and worked with Donna we will be much poorer without her.”
Donna was a friend and close confidante for an extraordinary number and range of people, from former and current politicians, ministerial advisers, journalists, senior policy-makers, other consultants and many people in the pharmaceutical sector.
For so many she was as much a friend as professional contact.
As someone who first met Donna as a young ministerial adviser almost twenty years ago, she left an indelible impression, from the very first meeting. In recent weeks, as more people became aware of her very private battle with illness, this has been a commonly recounted experience - the memory of meeting Donna for the first time and the trusted friendship that often followed.
A key to her professional success representing organisations in Canberra, while founded on her knowledge and expertise, was her remarkable ability to bridge what is often a significant gap between the needs of her clients and the day-to-day reality for policy-makers. This was underpinned by her remarkable but rare ability to engender trust.
She will live on through the memory of her generosity, kindness, integrity, intellect, style and friendship.
A service in honour of Donna will be held this Wednesday (10.30am) at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 463 Oxford Street, Paddington.