2024 VBSPCA Lifesaver Award Recipients: Barbara Taylor Creech and Mary Donnan Harrison

Mary Donnan Harrison and Barbara Taylor Creech have been best friends for what feels like a lifetime. In the 50-plus years they’ve known each other, the two have shared countless memories and a deep love for animals and the Virginia Beach SPCA. Their collective impact on the organization is so immense that it is no exaggeration to say the VBSPCA would not be what it is today without them.

Harrison with Diego

The companionship of animals has been a lifelong constant for both Creech and Harrison. Creech grew up in Virginia Beach surrounded by sprawling farmland and fondly remembers her family’s cattle, horses, and dogs. Likewise, Harrison spent her formative years in the company of canines. Her Richmond home always had at least one dog, and her parents taught Harrison that “a lover of animals treats them like a member of the family.”

A summer job brought a young Harrison to Virginia Beach, and she never left. She met Creech through mutual acquaintances, beginning a friendship that now spans three generations. Creech was the first of the two to become involved with the VBSPCA, visiting the shelter’s previous location to adopt a puppy. Creech recalls that it was little more than a “shack,”, and she left there with two equally important things – a dog she loved for 15 years and the realization that “there needed to be something better” than that shack. Creech took that realization to heart and began volunteering for the organization before later joining the VBSPCA Board of Directors.

Creech with Zeke

Something better did come. Not long after, the VBSPCA launched a capital campaign for a new shelter, and the Holland Road location opened in 1989 – the front lobby named in honor of Creech’s mother, Doris Malbon Taylor. The inaugural Celebrity and Pet Fashion Show coincided with the opening of this new shelter. Creech helped plan the event and was a participant alongside her poodle mix. Harrison also had her Cocker Spaniel in that first show.

The Celebrity and Pet Fashion Show paved the way for what is now the VBSPCA’s annual Wags and Whiskers Gala. It is only fitting that Creech and Harrison will receive the 2024 VBSPCA Lifesaver Award at this year’s event, which takes place Saturday, April 27.

After planning the fashion show for seven years, Creech handed responsibility over to Harrison, who worked diligently for eight years to continue to elevate the event. Harrison recalls two aspects of her time in charge – plenty of long nights perfecting every detail and the companionship of co-planners Shelley Giordano, Bruce Rader, and Kathy Thomson. “The four of us worked so hard together,” Harrison remembers. “We would stay up until two o’clock in the morning in my kitchen. We did it for years. They really deserve this honor with me.”

Sharing in Harrison’s humility, Creech was likewise quick to acknowledge the impact of former VBSPCA Board Members Judge Tom Ammons and Joe Waldo on the continued growth and success of the organization.

Creech and Harrison both took step backs from active participation with the VBSPCA after their time with the fashion show, but both have remained steadfast in their love of animals and support of the organization. That passion made it an easy sell when current Chief Executive Officer Derby Brackett reached out to see if they would be interested in serving the VBSPCA once again. The two friends are now working together on major gift projects to fund the continued growth of the organization.

“It’s been fun to get back involved again, and I’m back in the groove of helping the VBSPCA” Creech said. “To see how far the VBSPCA has come is very rewarding.”

Creech views receiving the 2024 Lifesaver Award as a tremendous honor, one made even sweeter by the inclusion of her longtime friend. “It’s so incredibly special and just means a lot to me,” she said. “Receiving it together is very special.” Like a true best friend, Harrison was in total agreement, saying “I think it’s absolutely wonderful. It’s a huge honor. I have always loved the VBSPCA. It’s meant so much to me.”

“I think every town needs an SPCA and I think we’ve got one of the best ones.” – Mary Donnan Harrison

Header Photo Credit: Don Monteaux Photography

Interested in attending this year’s Wags and Whiskers Gala? Click here for tickets and more information.