A tribute to Mark Magennis, a legend of the events industry

Magennis

Joyce DiMascio celebrates the life of events industry veteran Mark Magennis who passed away this month aged 49.

Mark Magennis, co-founder of Decorative Events & Exhibitions (DE&E), was my friend and colleague in the events industry for close to 13 years. On 8 October he passed away after living with cancer for five years.

Over this period, I spent lots of time with him as he navigated the challenges that come with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis and the consequent health and emotional roller coaster it creates.

But just as he did in business, Mark approached his illness with positivity. He had a determination to beat the cancer embracing every treatment at every stage.

For a while the treatments quietened that beast. But sadly, the beast prevailed, and he left this earth at Bellingen Hospital with his family and close friends at his side.

Mark would be astonished at the sadness, the ocean of tears, the chasm of grief that his passing has cracked open. Colleagues, staff, clients, competitors from across his career shattered by news of his death at just 49.

For Mark had an energy that drew people to him – he was smart, talented, passionate, fun. He worked hard and he also enjoyed life and the company of industry friends and associates.

He was one of the most formidable creative business leaders in the exhibitions and events industry delivering up to 2,000 events a year. He owned the business with his ex-partner.

Mark’s style and imagination coloured everything that came out of the company’s premises. He led a wonderful team and he valued their expertise and commitment to DE&E and its clients. He rewarded loyalty with loyalty – in business and in his private life.

Whether it was the look and feel for a glamorous wedding or gala dinner, a new fashion brand activation at the races or polo, a hotel launch, an awards night or an entire exhibition – the DE&E touch was immediately recognisable. His clients included Commonwealth Bank, Sydney Opera House, Pier One Sydney Harbour, Melbourne Convention Bureau and many international government destination marketing agencies.

With his support and styling magic, as CEO of the Exhibition and Events Association of Australasia I was able to elevate the annual awards event for the industry to something truly special. Mark personally oversaw everything. Each year, on awards night as I’d be checking the room set-up and staging installations, Mark would be there too casting his fine eye over every table, every centrepiece, every decorative element. Perfectionism was his middle name.

He was always willing to support our association and others because he wanted the industry to succeed and to have a vibrant professional representative body. He understood the power of advocacy and wanted our industry to have influence, to be recognised and supported.

In 2018, his contribution to the industry was recognised at the EEAA Awards for Excellence where he was named joint winner of the Unsung Hero Award.

The charities that DE&E also generously supported were the annual Ronald McDonald ball, the Benevolent Society and Movember.

Over the past five years, I saw a different side of Mark. I saw what this incredible human was really made of. At the core of his being, he was a fighter – “I’m not going down without a fight honey” he would say. His optimism and positivity were superhuman.

Despite a series of dreadful circumstances that came his way – he wanted to thrive, to get through the high seas, to get to calm waters and create a new life that involved giving to others and in particular to those also going through illness. I worked on this project with him.

The cancer diagnosis in 2018 was big – but there was also the January 2019 fire at the DE&E premises on the eve of AIME 2019 for which DE&E had been appointed designer and exhibition partner. Then came the Covid shutdown of the whole events sector and closure of Australian borders. Sadly, in addition to all this, his marriage also ended. How could one person have to carry such a load.

Mark never complained about his illness – he focussed on what he could do. The treatments, eating well, physical training while it was possible, rehab after a hip replacement and surgery to his other leg.

Twelve months ago, when it became clear that the cancer was back and had spread to his bones and other organs, palliative care started. Mark wanted life, not death. He wanted whatever he could get. Days, weeks, months. He just wanted life and to live it his way in his beautiful home with those he loved around him – he adored his family, his dog Bailey and a bunch of super close friends including those from his new community in “Bello”.

The last period of his life was spent in his new home surrounded by lush countryside and beautiful vistas. He began a project to restore his glorious heritage property. This was Mark’s sanctuary – and he wanted it to be a sanctuary for others too. He restored the place and became embedded in the Bellingen community. He was surrounded by good people who helped him transform the home – he worked on this right up till his death.

There is so much more I could write – but other friends and colleagues have also captured the enormity of his talents.

I saw him as a hugely creative, generous, and intelligent with passion for the power of events. He was tuned into the economy, politics, news and current affairs – and of course the latest fashion and style trends.

He was sharp in every way – and he knew what was needed for each occasion – even his own impeccable sartorial style reflected this. The sparkly dinner jacket, the chic linens, the polo shirt classics. His style was his signature.

Letting Mark go was gruelling – but his pain is now over. I thank Mark for the privilege of being around him when he needed it most. He never said no to my cooking – when he was well or when he was sick.

Our last dinner together in Bellingen was very special – I knew it would be the last. He came to the table – some of his best mates were there too.

We ate, we laughed, and we were all quietly grateful to have this period with him.

The last video series I suggested to him was Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy. We were planning to go together one day – but that was not meant to be.

I’m honoured to write this piece which includes comment from industry peers and friends. Their contributions are greatly appreciated.

They show all the sides of Mark – his leadership, mentoring and his contribution to all parts of the events industry over many years.

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Monique Perera of Camera Creations worked with Mark together at Sydney Town Hall 22 years ago. He was her mentor. She wrote a beautiful letter to Mark on Facebook: “I remember your eyes would light up as you mentored me in starting my business all those years ago – your energy and enthusiasm were inspiring.

“Your generous heart, support, and encouragement of others to be the best they could possibly be. Little did I know that you would become such an influential part of my life and a lifelong friend.”

Mark Magennis worked with exquisite Australian and international brands creating engaging experiences that captured to essence of the clients’ briefs and strategies.

Client Kathy Savill, ex Merivale and now Director at consultancy ABAAT, describes him as a legend.

“I was first introduced to Mark in 2008 when I returned to Sydney after 10 years overseas with two children. I was re-entering the events and hospitality industry with some trepidation and a fair dose of imposter syndrome,” she said.

“He offered advice and was a sounding board whenever it was required and was exceptionally generous with his time, humour and wisdom. He soon became a friend as well as a colleague.”

She said that DE&E and Merivale Group worked together on many occasions and Mark and the team were wonderful creative collaborators.

“A gaping hole is left in the industry, and he really was a legend.”

Kim Mahaffy, General Manager of the Autograph Collection hotel, Pier One Sydney Harbour, spoke of the powerful partnership created between DE&E and her hotel and his outstanding leadership attributes.

“Mark led with both his head and his heart, a rare but very successful leadership quality.

“Mark magically blended these two styles and because of this ability was far and away one of the most effective leaders I have worked with.

“He set ambitious goals and enforced high standards with his team and his partners, while at the same time, built cohesive teams and cultivated a strong workplace culture where everyone thrived,” Mahaffy said.

Ruby Chronis, Head of Commercial Services of the Australian National Maritime Museum and DE&E’s last General Manager, says Mark was an incredible and inspirational leader, a true visionary.

“His contribution to the industry will never be forgotten and his legacy will continue to inspire. Mark had no idea the profound impact he had on us all and we are forever honoured to have worked with him,” she said.

Sonya Goncalves, Senior Business Development Manager – Exhibitions at ICC Sydney, was one also a staff member in the lead-up to Covid.

“I sat next to him each day and admired his leadership and the time he invested with our clients – no client was too big or too small. The business delivered solutions for 2,000 events a year.

“Mark built up that business, he was its driving force. He taught us to always step outside the mundane and ordinary and aim to deliver clients’ exceptional experiences.

“He regarded every client as important whether they were hiring 3 candelabras or needed a major event installation. He was a once in a generation leader,” Goncalves said.

Close friend and client Kelly Coleman, CommBank’s Senior Manager, Communications & Events – Commercial Banking, said she met Mark about 15 years ago as DE&E did styling for CommBank events.

“He always went over and above and beyond what I could have even imagined. We became best mates. He had as infectious personality and was always full of life and fun, and he lit up the room when he entered it.”

She said it was heartbreaking to see him go through so many challenges over the last few years.

Industry peer Shari Carr, who first connected with Mark during his years at the Sydney Town Hall, attests to his passion for the industry.

“Mark was driven, creative, hard-working and so much fun to be around. He was a great leader, mentor and lifelong friend to so many.”

Shari also worked with Mark on many events including MEA’s NSW Awards and Christmas Parties. She says they were the best our industry has seen, and Mark’s contribution would be remembered forever.

“Mark will never know the enormity of his impact – he didn’t have a big ego. He had big ideas and big ambitions – but he was humble and generous and selfless in so many ways.”

Kim Mahaffy is reflective about his contribution to the industry and the difference he made through the thousands and thousands of events he led.

“Mark’s legacy is his people who are far and wide in this industry, he touched people’s hearts and minds equally. He inspired, he listened, he should have had a PhD in psychology as he truly understood customers and team members, he was a master communicator, he was curious and he loved life, living it large always,” she said.

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On behalf of the industry, I say thank you for your service to our industry. We will miss you – you the person, you the creator, you the leader – you the fine human who loved life in all its beautiful iterations. You who gave of yourself to so many nurturing and supporting so people could be their best self. RIP Mark Nathan Magennis – our deepest condolences to all those who loved you especially your family and close friends.

May the angels carry you on their wings. Fly Mark fly.

An industry tribute is being organised to honour Mark Magennis on December 11 in Sydney. For more information contact joycedimascio@gmail.com.