In Memoriam Sonia Vanular 1921 - 2020

In Memoriam Sonia Vanular 1921 - 2020

Fond memories of Sonia

Our founder, Mrs Sonia Vanular, passed away late August 2020 at the age of 98.

It goes without saying that her passing is a big loss for our association. It is thanks to her that IMA now exists. She was the one who had a vision back in 1974 when she founded EAPS. She passionately encouraged our members to develop their role and to recognize the value and worth of the profession. EAPS changed name in 1998 to EUMA and again to IMA in 2017, but Sonia was always there fully and actively supporting every change to meet the requirements and changes of our profession. She followed her baby very closely and saw it growing into an association of more than 1500 members in more than 30 countries worldwide.

Today, IMA is the only international network for management support professionals and we would not have been here without Sonia.

Sonia loved life and we are sure we will all remember her with our personal memories and stories. Let’s all join forces and work together in order to keep her heritage alive for many more years to come. Let's continue to honor her tremendous and beautiful legacy.

Below, you will find tributes from our members to Sonia.

A tribute to Sonia by Catherine Castetbon, IMA France

I will always remember when I first encountered Sonia Vanular. I was introduced to her by Monique Garcia, the Chairwoman of the EUMA French Branch at that time [Y-2010] during the International Training Day. It was my first participation to an EUMA international event and I felt so honoured as a “young”/ new member to chat with Sonia; on the spot, she made a very good impression to me and in no time I was “propelled” to work on a group project [the EUMA Development Teams launched by Sonia focusing on 4 themes; the one I ended up involved in was the one about: “Improving networking (How to increase the benefits of the network?)”.

You have to admit, she was very good at nudging & at persuading people that, whatever challenge lies ahead, you could do it, you could find the energy & skills needed to reach the goal & share the results, the input with the EUMA/IMA Community. Thanks to her, I ended up presenting in front of the AGM members in 2012 (in Iceland) and I realized that I could do it, finding the courage. This is what I learnt from her: audacity and inner courage.

What dazzled me in her personality? • She was so determined to move ahead in the action • Plenty of mind sharpness, [“vivacité d’esprit”, in French] • So joyful, embracing life as it comes to her • Her smile was so impactful • So committed to mobilize the “troops”, i.e. the members • Always a kind word to everybody • Always remembering the names of each member & very keen on meeting the young members coming on board. • A “connector” between us and the idea of “United, we get stronger!” • Fostering “camaraderie”, true collaboration between us • A keen advocate of sharing Knowledge between us • And more…….

Let’s mourn together the true Leader she was; To me, she will always remain the “lighting torch” of the Association, the lighthouse guiding us, showing us the path to the future because it is in the action [when actioning things] that we advance and progress.

Let’s toast a glass to her legacy. Merci infiniment, Sonia. We will all miss you.

  • From Rebecca vd Berg-Chan

    Dear Sonia, Thank you for creating IMA and making a difference! May we all strive to uphold your legacy! In reverence and remembrance, Rebecca vd Berg-Chan

  • From Maria Cirillo

    Sonia Vanular, the woman who founded IMA. The woman who, until her death, was a role model for the members of IMA. Hear a memory from the welcome party at the annual conference in Cyprus 2015. Rest in peace, Sonia.

  • From Angela Mortimer

    Sonia Vanular was a legend in her time, never short of an opinion or well-formed argument. She could have expended her energy in many ways but chose to devote herself to promoting the significance of PA’s and executive assistants. She fought for their recognition in the workplace. More importantly, she trained and taught them to fight for themselves and their colleagues across the world. She created IMA which has survived many name changes, to outlive her and carry forward the work of defending and promoting the importance of the administrative role in world affairs. I am glad and proud to have been associated with Sonia as a colleague and as a friend.

    With many thanks Best wishes Angela Mortimer Co-Founder of Angela Mortimer Plc

  • From Anna Hueto

    It was a pleasure having Sonia with us. She was so supportive when I took the position of Association Secretary taking into account that I was a new member. She has been an example to all of us. Thank you, Anna.

  • From Emanuela Pastorino

    I met Sonia in 1988 when I joined EAPS, through who was then the Chairman, Anna Bechi. I had the opportunity to meet Sonia, when she took part in our Italian events, the first time in Venice, in an extraordinary place, the Spring Council organized by Eaps Italy. At the gala dinner Anna introduced me to Sonia, our foundress! I took care, together with the Eaps Italy Group, of all the organization and reception, but I always escaped Sonia's "ambushes" when she approached me during the cocktail, I avoided her many times like an eel. Shortly before sitting down for dinner, Anna Bechi came to me and told me that I was at the table with her and Sonia and other members whose names I don't remember now. I was simply "good-naturedly restless" ......... during dinner, there was a dialogue with her, I could not escape that brightly searching, vivid gaze that listened, observed and scrutinized joyfully. Sonia, I have always recognized her as my professional mentor, she has been a role model to me. I met her with some of you for the last time in Milan in 2016, when we celebrated the Euma Italy Group anniversary. Our Foundress taught us that the rules can be changed, but to be changed, we must be the first to believe in their effectiveness and apply them constantly, not forgetting where we started! Thanks Sonia.

    Emanuela

  • From Greet Puttaert

    Sonia Vanular and the other founding mothers of EAPS – Joke Snijders (NL) and Gwen Cowan (UK) with early strongholders like Thérèse Ralitte (FR) and Christine Davies (UK) - left me a personal legacy in the form of lifelong friends in my first fellow-national committee members, Gillian Scott (as Treasurer) and Christine Bullimore Goddard Davies (as PR Officer). We met 30 years ago and formed a solid friendship that endured distance and life changes. Many other friends come to mind in Europe. EAPS was a formative experience in the beginning of my career for which I will always be grateful. The Council Meetings in particular were great learning experiences. To see how EAPS transformed into EUMA – with some hilarious and vivid memories of debates in Council and AGM - and now the last transformation into IMA, all set in motion by these founding members, and in particular Sonia, and continued by subsequent Executive Board members and all the National Committees, makes me feel grateful to belong to this international network.

  • from Valérie LIONNET

    Since that sad day when our dear Sonia, a mother for all of us, passed away, my heart is filled with the beautiful words I have heard about her.

    Sonia’s neighbours in Menton where she lived will miss this extraordinary lady with her charming English accent. Sonia so cultivated and humble at the same time was never complaining. Although already in her nineties she was still talking about her projects, still driving and travelling all over the world, either for a conference or on a cruise. She embraced life.

    Virginie, a former French IMA member, remembers the early 2000s, when the group was working closely with Sonia, then already in her eighties. EUMA France hosted the 31st Conference in Nice. At a time when e-mailing was not yet a common practice, Sonia learned how to send an e-mail. From that moment onward, she was able to communicate with the Executive Committee in a much easier and faster way.

    Sonia did a lot for our profession and was a visionary. She wanted Assistants to learn and succeed, at a time when women were not recognized as professionals.

    We are all so respectful for the work Sonia accomplished in creating and leading IMA and feel honoured to have known her.

    “Let IMA be a great success” Sonia concluded at the Fouquet’s in Paris on IMA D Day! We will always remember her words.

    Valérie LIONNET Vice-Chairman IMA France

From Silvia Salomon

Sonia Vanular. Simply Sonia. Two moments will remain forever engraved in my memory. In Ljubljana in 2008, the then National Committee of EUMA Italy asked me and allowed me to attend my first Full Council as a simple observer. I met Sonia for the first time at breakfast, we shared the same table, as often happens at IMA events. Curious, insightful, attentive. She wanted to know something about me. Then the conversation turned to the topics on the Full Council agenda. I expressed my opinion, convinced -such a rookie I was- that it would remain at the table, between juice, bacon eggs and some good coffee. Sonia listened attentively, and told me: "You should say this today in the Council, it is an acute reflection and a good proposal". Franca Riva, then Treasurer of EUMA Italy, intervened and reminded her very respectfully that I would only be observer, therefore I would not have the right to speak in the Council. Sonia did not flinch, and even more politely told her: "When a rule is not intelligent, it must be changed." A few hours later, the Council dealt with the topic in question and once the discussion was over, they were preparing to move on, when Sonia raised her hand asking for a microphone and the floor. Without preamble she said, “I don't think we're done. Silvia from Italy has something to say ”. She turned to look for me among those present and, with the same grace of the morning, as gentle but final as she knew how to be, she pushed me out of my comfort zone.

A few years later, in Cyprus, the Full Council was discussing whether to give the future IMA an international horizon, outside the European borders. Years earlier, some countries had already rejected the idea of welcoming members from non-strictly European countries, and even at that moment there was a mixture of reluctance to let something go and reluctance to welcome an expansion that, perhaps, was simply scary. The discussion had stalled, in general embarrassment in the face of this strange closure. A moment before it finally slipped onto dangerous ground, Sonia asked to speak and said: "When I thought of EAPS, I thought of it as European because then to say Europe meant giving a supranational point of reference to many individual countries. Today Europe is something else. Today Europe is, compared to the world, what every single country once was compared to Europe. Being international is in EUMA's DNA. I believe that IMA must go in that direction. We must be an international association".

Sonia had what a great leader should always have: vision. Sonia has established the mode of behavior, made of welcome, listening, respect ... but, always and in any case, focus on the goal and concreteness in achieving it. Sonia defined, at the beginning and then always, the standard of what we must be, as professionals and as an association, perhaps even as individual human beings. She is, and always will be, a role model that calls us to live up to this standard. She leaves an immense legacy, which we will have to preserve: to keep on evolving on the path that she has started for us. A journey was not for her just the pleasure of coming to meet us in person, as she has done so many times, but a way of being. May her vision accompany us and may it always be the beacon along the way! Thanks for everything, Sonia. Silvia Salomon

RIP Dear Sonia - by Caroline Roland-Levy

RIP dear Sonia. (September 23, 1921 - August 26, 2020). The first time I saw Sonia was when my eyes gazed upon this portrait of her, framed and propped up on my father’s desk. I was about 11 years old. A book could be written about her extraordinary life, but in a few words, she was an incredibly independent, courageous and intelligent woman. Born in London, the third of 3 sisters, she was sent to boarding school at the age of five because her father had died and her mother had to work to support her young daughters. A few weeks after her 22nd birthday, in October 1943, she met Ricky, a young Canadian boy posted in England while serving in the Royal Air Force. They fell madly in love and were engaged in May 1944. The war was raging, but they were married five months later, in October. As Europe rejoiced on the 8th of May 1945 when Germany surrendered to the Allies, a personal tragedy loomed. Three days later, on the 11th of May, Ricky’s plane crashed killing him instantly. She thought she would never find love again and in her grief, she set out to teach herself Law. She rose at 5am every day to study before going to work managing a secretarial school. Her self-discipline paid off and she passed the bar. By September 1957, she decided to move to Paris. She spoke no French and got a job working for the American Army. In the early 1960s, her adventurous curiosity led her to embark alone on a trip across Africa. This was the beginning of an unquenchable thirst for travel, which lasted until last year. Sonia only interrupted her travels when she met my father Pierre in 1967. He despised travelling, yet they found common ground and mutual respect in most other areas of life. They remained devoted to one another until his death in 1990. Her resilience did not falter and she decided to address her grief by moving to Italy to learn Italian at the University of Perugia. She was 69 years old. Not one to sit still very long, she began to criss cross the planet from the far reaches of Antarctica to Easter Island and across the Panama Canal back to the Mediterranean, across Central Asia to India, New Zealand and back via South Africa. She did this numerous times in various combinations. A woman in her 70s, 80s and 90s who could strike up an interesting conversation with anyone, no matter how different their lives had been, she never tired of new experiences, making new friends (all invariably younger than her) all over the globe. She included in her trips, a visit with us every year until 2018. Those visits often coincided with her birthday, which happens to be the same day as my daughter Azalea’s. The last time they blew their candles together, they were celebrating their 97th and 16th birthdays… And now, just a month shy of her 99th birthday, a bright light has dimmed. She will be truly missed.

Best regards,

Caroline Roland-Levy

Articles about Sonia

  • Deskdemon.uk

    Deskdemon.uk featured this interview with Sonia, circa 2002.

  • European Women of Achievement Awards, Adrie van der Luijt

    In 2004 I nominated Sonia for the European Women of Achievement Awards, held at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. Here is my report from Impetus.

    Thanks, Adrie

Photos - our memories of Sonia

Many people have sent in photos of their meetings with Sonia over the years - thank you all.

Some of the photos were also used in the presentation that Sabrina used, when we had the birthday celebration for Sonia in 2020 - you can see the presentation here.

Pictures of Sonia Vanular

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