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Supporter Spotlight: Sandi Ross, 1949-2016

Sandi Ross was “a huge life force,” says longtime friend Sheila Reiser.

The two met in the early 1970s as students at the University of Minnesota.

After Ross moved to Toronto to pursue an acting career, she and Reiser kept in touch.

“I did a lot of cheerleading for her early on. A lot of ‘yes, you can do this,’” Reiser says.

Ross, as it turned out, could and did do it: she became an established actor, tackling many roles on stage and screen in her decades-long career.

She was also an activist with a deep commitment to creating a diverse Canadian entertainment industry.

Ross was the founding editor and producer of Into the Mainstream, a casting directory of visible and audible minorities. She also served on many diversity committees and sat on arts juries for the Canada Council, the Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council and The Racial Equity Committee of the Canada Council.

In 1994, Ross became the first woman and the first person of colour to be elected president of ACTRA Toronto.

“She loved acting, she loved being a leader,” says Merle Matheson, who served on the ACTRA council with Ross.

“She was a real force in the union,” Reiser says. “She was really good at standing up for workers’ rights.”

Ross also loved social events. Her New Year’s Day open-house parties were legendary.

“Everybody loved her fried chicken,” Matheson recalls.

After a long and successful career, Ross had some health issues that prevented her from working. A longtime supporter of The AFC, she turned to the organization for help. She was able to recover from her illness and get back to the work she loved so much.

“She was a fighter,” Matheson says. “She lost practically everything and managed to build herself back up.”

“In the last three years before she became ill again, she had a slew of very good jobs, bringing her back to the top,” her agent Yanick Landry says. “She was back on track and quite happy to give back to the community where she could.”

On August 31, 2016, Ross died following another battle with illness.

Reiser was named a beneficiary of her estate.

“When Sheila heard that there was an insurance disbursement available, she thought it would be a good idea to give back to The AFC. To recognize the great work that they do and because Sandi had been active with The AFC and later been in need of The AFC’s support,” explains Landry, who helped organize Ross’s business affairs in the last years of her life.

“I wanted The AFC to have (the money) because they had helped Sandi throughout her lifetime,” says Reiser. “It seemed very appropriate to give back.”

The AFC is grateful to Sandi Ross and Sheila Reiser for creating a legacy of support for entertainment professionals through this very generous donation.

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