It’s not easy to catch up with Catherine Landry. In the sparkling National Arts Centre, filled with women dressed to the nines and smart staff serving champagne and hors d’oeuvres, she runs past with an armload of door prizes. Like all great event planners, she is ensuring every detail of Ladies Who Lunch is perfect. At this business networking event for women, which Catherine spearheaded in Ottawa, she moves faster than everyone else in the room because she’s the only one wearing sneakers.
© Mark Holleron
With her energy and focus, it’s clear that Catherine takes her work seriously. And the event has an impressive lineup of speakers, including Janice McDonald, named one of the top 100 businesswomen in Canada by the Women’s Executive Network, and Mary Taggart, editor-in-chief of Ottawa at Home magazine. Laureen Harper, the prime minister’s wife, was also scheduled to speak but had to cancel at the last minute to attend a state funeral abroad.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for people to ‘get it’ but I think people really ‘get’ Ladies Who Lunch,” says Catherine. “It’s always sold out. It’s packed with people who are movers and shakers.” But more importantly, she says, it’s full of people who want to do something positive in the community.
Not the typical event planner in a business suit and pumps, Catherine has nevertheless made a name for herself as an organizer of premier events as well as a devoted supporter of charitable causes. Whether it’s feeding the homeless, raising money for the Ottawa Heart Institute or helping animals, she always rallies the community around helping others.
Dressed in what she later describes as her signature Catherine Landry outfit – hoop earrings, a Tupac T-shirt, leggings, and Converse shoes – she seems at home working a crowd.
“I’ve tried to dress up and I can’t do it. It was a disaster. I’ve tried wearing makeup and it was a disaster,” she says. But the typical Ottawa crowd doesn’t seem to mind and even gave Catherine a standing ovation at an event when she stood up and announced: “This is me, and I hope you can accept who I am!”
In addition to being CEO of Cherry Pie Events, which specializes in helping women in business, Catherine also does marketing and creative work for Big Rig Brewery and Restaurant, as well as the radio station Hot 89.9.
Crediting a strong work ethic from the age of 14 as the key to her success, Catherine believes that working from a young age “formulates your backbone.” She originally wanted a career in the mental health field and pursued studies at Algonquin College. After working in residences and hospitals, including a youth suicide prevention program at CHEO, her interest in helping people eventually led to fundraising and event planning.
During the Ladies Who Lunch event, Catherine organized attendees to write cards to volunteers at the Ottawa Humane Society and give donations to the charity. “You’ve got to pay it forward,” she says. “The volunteers are going to open the envelopes and there’s going to be money for the animals and all those kind words.”
Visibly moved, Catherine adds, “I can’t even talk about it, because it’s too close to my heart.” Wearing her heart on her sleeve is a big part of her unique style statement and her enthusiasm is infectious.
“I always like to do something different. I’m still getting emails from people saying they couldn’t believe the feeling in the room – that it was like being at Ellen and Oprah at the same time,” says Catherine, who is on a mission to get people to feel more and actually do something about it!
At the end of the lunch, she starts planning the next event and encouraging everyone to give up fancy coffee for a few weeks and fund dinner for a hungry family. “I just figured out a long time ago that whatever you do, it’s important to do good, to be kind, and to go forward with an open heart. And never expect anything in return – that’s the secret of it all.”