Toni James, APR,CPRC, began her career in public relations when she joined the brand new Ocala Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association (FPRA) in 1981. She brought to the work a bachelor of arts degree in English from Bucknell University located in Lewisburg, PA, minoring in business administration. In 1995 she passed the rigorous FPRA exam to achieve APR – “accredited in public relations.” Accreditation is now recognized by PRSA and other national public relations professional associations as a universal accreditation. In 2013 she passed the FPRA exam to achieve CPRC-“Certified Public Relations Counselor,” a designation held by only 80 professionals at the time in the state of Florida. Her work with United Way brought their fund-raising achievement from $300,000 in 1980 to $2.2 million in 2005 and an endowment of more than $1.5 million. For five years Toni authored a bi-weekly column in the Star Banner on volunteerism. She retired in 2006 from United Way of Marion County, after a total of 30 years with the organization.

Consider what Toni has accomplished in retirement: she not only opened her own PR consultancy, Toni James & Associates Strategic Public Relations, she also continued to play an instrumental role as board chair of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra. It was under her guidance that the orchestra was renamed and brought in Matthew Wardell as conductor. She also worked tirelessly and successfully for the Heart of Florida Health Center, Friends of MRMC, Save the Marion Theatre, and was part of the Library Lovers campaign which promoted the restoration of funding to the Public Library System.

Most recently, Toni was named to the board of the Public Policy Institute. As if that weren’t enough, Toni chaired United Way’s 50th Anniversary event and stepped back into the role of executive director when an interim leader was needed. When it was time to again retire from United Way, she continued to serve first as chair of its public relations and marketing committee, and now as committee member. Additionally, she is involved in Women of Worth, the Ocala Women’s Network, Rotary and her church. But wait, there is more. Lest we forget, Toni is a charter member of our chapter, continuously maintaining membership and has served three times as its president as well as state Vice-President of Golden Image.

In 2009, she received the Doris Fleischman Award for dedicated service to the Association and the profession. At age 75, during FPRA’s 75th Anniversary year, Toni schooled us all and became one of only two professionals in Florida to earn her CPRC, along with Tina Banner, APR, CPRC. Toni continues to serve our chapter whenever and wherever needed – chairing Credentials and ACES, assisting as Image Awards judge, helping with Communicator of the Year.

The list truly goes on and on and on. From children’s health and early childhood education to senior services, Toni’s work through United Way has impacted the education, health and financial stability of families in our community. She has also been a strong advocate of the Marion County Library System through her work with Friends of the Library. Her strong conviction for positioning our community to be prepared to “do the right thing” led her to be an active and engaged member of the Public Policy Institute. Toni blazed the trail for women in leadership positions in Marion County. However, she remained close enough to mentor others as a champion for women and their opportunity to seek top positions in the community.

Toni has served in numerous leadership roles in the community.

  • President of the Ocala Women’s Network
  • Founding member of the Marion County Children’s Alliance
  • President of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra
  • Public Policy Institute of Marion County board member
  • Success By 6 Leadership Council member
  • Kids Central, Inc. board member
  • Heart of Florida Health Center board member
  • Ocala Rotary Club

For a more appropriate recap of Toni’s contributions, read the gem found online written by our own Laura Byrnes, APR, CPRC. And this … a reminder when an FPRA event generated a $14,000 profit to divide among three charities! More recently, Interfaith Emergency Services recognized Toni’s decades of service with the Legacy of Love honor in 2016.

Toni has been a constant supporter and encourager for the FPRA Ocala Chapter since 1981. She also contributed to our chapter history for the Association’s 75th Anniversary. She shared some of those historical nuggets with Buddy Martin at the 2016 Local Image Awards ceremony. It was memorable. These two beloved members of the community also worked tirelessly together to save the Marion Theatre. We think Buddy’s dad, Wilton F. Martin, would be pleased to see her honored in his name!