Donna Borrelli (pictured), who for 17 years kept JCK running behind the scenes as its hyperefficient and eternally hardworking associate publisher, died on Nov. 22 from complications related to COVID-19. She was 64.
Borrelli joined JCK in 1999 as director of operations. She was promoted to associate publisher in 2000.
While mostly a backstage person who was more likely to be found working late at the office than glad-handing at industry events, in 2015, Borrelli was nominated for a Women’s Jewelry Association award in the category of Special Services.
Her passing has shocked the extended JCK family—both past and present.
“We called her Mama DB as associate publisher,” says Randi Gewertz, JCK’s advertising sales director. “Donna took care of everything. She had the best work ethic, did way more than her job entailed. She always gave 150%. She was so talented. She came up with so many great ideas. Every detail in every project, she handled with such expertise.
“At one point, we had more than 10 JCK reps—domestic and international,” Gewertz adds. “She made us all successful because of her dedication and love for JCK. We all loved and respected her, and will miss her greatly. She was an integral part of the JCK family, and she will live in our hearts forever.”
Victoria Gomelsky, editor-in-chief of JCK, said Borrelli was the kind of person who didn’t expect praise or fanfare and excelled at her job because she cared deeply for the magazine and her colleagues.
“Donna was kind, thoughtful, and so incredibly reliable,” she says. “I am deeply saddened by her passing.”
Says former JCK publisher Mark Smelzer: “Donna was our touchstone, our cat herder, our mother superior, and the glue that held a crazy-busy team together…. I owe so much of my success, as well as my friendships in the industry, to Donna’s ability to keep the home fires going while I gallivanted around the globe. ”
He recalled Borrelli having “a great sense of humor and a great laugh. One of my favorite joys of that time was cracking a well-timed joke, usually in the middle of a stressful day, to make her laugh.”
Bobbie Hamburg, JCK’s former sales manager, says that she always admired Borrelli’s “candor, work ethic, tireless energy, infectious laugh, and genuine concern about improving our team projects.”
She adds that her “favorite times with Donna were spent outside the office. I enjoyed our times together at the Jersey Shore, keeping her company while she sold her handmade whirligigs at various craft shows, helping Donna decorate her tree for the holidays, and just meeting her for a casual lunch and catching up on life.
“Donna was a genuinely down-to-earth, empathetic, and good soul,” she says. “I was proud to call her my friend.”
JCK’s former national sales director Bill Furman says he’s “devastated” by the loss of the person he calls “his occupational wife and confidante.”
“She always avoided the spotlight,” he says. “She was egoless. She cared about the people that she worked with and was indefatigable in supporting us. She had a maternal influence on us all. She gave so, so much.”
Jennifer Heebner, who worked with Borrelli while she was a JCK senior editor, remembers her as someone who gave “1,000% at work but was still approachable for friendly advice.
“She was a beacon of light to follow in difficult times, keeping her staff calm while reminding them that tough periods eventually pass. Donna will be greatly missed for her leadership, friendship, and for being someone so admired personally and professionally.”
Says JCK’s former production manager, Dawn Colon: “I’m in shock, and I can’t stop crying…. I loved Donna so much as a person, and she was without a doubt the best boss I’ve ever had. She will be greatly missed beyond words.”
After leaving JCK in 2017, Borrelli managed the design awards for InStore, which has put up its own tribute.
Before her time at JCK, Borrelli served as director of custom publishing for the supply chain and automotive group of JCK’s then-parent, Cahners Business Information, and as director of marketing for its truck and retail magazine groups. She joined Chilton, Cahners’ predecessor, in 1987.
Donna Borrelli is survived by her husband, Michael Stern, and brothers August, Joseph, and Louis.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Providence Animal Shelter.
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