VA Star: Jo Howlett – remembering an Award winning VA

Pictured: 2015: Joanne Hawkins presents Jo Howlett with UK VA Award, Runner-up VA of the Year 2015 North West England; 2019 pictured right is the VA Star award for Jo.

The UK VA Conference 2019 has been honoured to host the launch of the inaugural VA Star awards.

In future years, invitations to nominate Virtual Assistants that ‘give back’ to the profession or may do significant ‘good deeds’ for their local community or charity can be recognised by their peers in the VA profession.

More details for the 2020 VA Star awards will be released later this year (2019)

For the initial 2019 award, Debby Marcy, co-founder of the North West VA Hub, had nominated her co-founding colleague Joanne Howlett of Admin Tones, who very sadly died towards the end of last year.

The award is being sent on to Jo’s family in New Zealand.

Unfortunately Debby Marcy was unable to attend #VACon19 at Olympia, London on the day, and Gwen Backhouse stepped forward to deliver an impeccable reading of Jo’s tribute that had been collated by Debby.

Full permission and Jo’s family blessing to share the tribute in full, as follows:

Jo Howlett

Born in New Zealand, Jo came to Manchester to study for Counselling Services and Health Studies in 2006. graduating with a BSc Hons.

Jo went on to be a PA in the Third Sector  gaining a variety of skills in administration and marketing.

In December 2009, Jo founded Admin Tones, providing VA support to entrepreneurs and legal practitioners.

She also blogged as The Authentic PA – because she felt this nom de plume represented the business ethics of herself and her business.

Nonetheless, Jo was a canny business women.  She was certain that the route to success as a virtual assistant was through upgrading her professional qualifications and constant CPD, whilst marketing her business consistently through social media and networking.

In 2012 she attended UK VA Conference, and this contact with other VAs supplied the key, missing part towards fulfilment in her chosen VA career. Driven forwards by Jo, a regular meet up for virtual assistants in the North West was conceived at this conference, and her belief in collaboration and co-operation amongst VAs to support each other without competition  which still thrives in The North West VA Hub today.

When Jo qualified as a prestigious CILEx Legal Secretary she could have worked in Manchester City Centre and named her own salary. But, just as in 2009, she chose to be a business owner in her own right. Her own boss. A professional virtual assistant.

She was rewarded in 2015 when her “excellent standards for clients” and ‘‘significant evidence of many hours of continual professional development, including qualifications in the Legal sector” was recognised within the VA industry when she was Runner-up North West England VA of the Year Award.

When Jo died late last year at the age of just thirty-three, many in the VA world were deeply shocked and saddened. Only a few people were aware that Jo had Cystic Fibrosis and that for the last two years of her life she was gravely and increasingly ill. Despite this, she kept her business going for weeks, literally from her hospital bed, and she was planning another entry for the North West VA of the Year Award.

However, she had to return to New Zealand. She started up again, promoting the benefits of working with a virtual assistant much as in 2009.

She worked right up until when she went into hospital for the last time, and had clients waiting for her to get back to her desk.

Jo, was always a great ambassador for the virtual assistant.

She supported established VAs and newbies, and shared her knowledge freely. She saw being a virtual assistant as a professional career choice

But most of all, Jo truly felt the fear and did it anyway. She started her business in 2009 knowing that then the median age for CF sufferers to survive was just over thirty-four and that her future was uncertain and finite. Outwardly she put that to one side. But in private, she doubted her personal and professional strength.  In later years public networking was something she had to force herself and her body to do. However, it was rare that anyone saw her cheery, enthusiastic but business-like persona drop.

Jo’s personal history and the difficulties she overcame are extreme examples, but not without precedent for many VAs. Everyone has a back-story of difficulties overcome and having to work whilst struggling with doubts. However, Jo’s circumstances and how she handled them add up to make a shining example of how to conduct yourself in your business and professional circles if you are to be a successful and well-respected VA.

In Jo’s own words:

“Perseverance is a matter of choice. When all seems lost, it would be easy to give up and let go of what could have been, but there is no reward in that. Reward comes from making a choice; taking action and even when it’s tough, seeing it through. I can now say: ‘I am an award winning Virtual Assistant located in Manchester’. I wouldn’t have been able to say that before unless I had taken the opportunity to step out. The best way to break your fear is to step out and do it anyway.”


2015 Jo Howlett accepting her Runner-up North West, VA of the Year

2019 Gwen Backhouse presenting Jo’s tribute at UK VA Conference 27th Feb 2019.

2019 North West VA Hub still carrying on Jo’s work

Many thanks to Debby Marcy of North West VA Hub, Caroline Wylie of Society of Virtual Assistants, and Gwen Backhouse for their parts in organising this tribute and VA Star award.

About The Author


WORKSMARTPA – NEW IDEAS, NEW FRONTIERS The year 2021 sees our business celebrate 21 years of - a community supporting office professionals since our very first newsletter way back in May 2000. As we look forward to greet a new world of change beyond the pandemic, we are extremely excited to announce a new brand; a new look; and some new directions for our much loved, long-standing web site and communities to explore. It is time for change. To better reflect now what we do best for you, we have a new brand, web site and activities – a new name and web site that will be full of new ideas for a new business age and new working trends as we all seek to grow, expand and explore new frontiers.

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