By Sandra King Webster, MPR, ABC
The IABC London community has lost one of its early pioneers. Catherine Finlayson, CFRE, who joined IABC in the early 1980s, and later served as our chapter’s fifth president, died on Dec. 28. In Catherine’s memory and in recognition of her extraordinary contributions, IABC London has made a donation to the Adventure Expeditions and Interpretive Leadership program at Fanshawe College.
Catherine’s career started in journalism
After graduating with an Honours BA in Journalism from Western University, Catherine began her career as a reporter/photographer with Western Ontario Business, a bi-weekly newspaper. Within a few years she became editor. Her long-time friend and colleague Karen Humphreys Blake, MCM, APR, remembers, “Catherine and I became fast friends while working together as young reporters at WOB. That friendship survived many life changes for both of us. Catherine was a wonderful listener, did not judge and provided common sense advice. She was truly there when you really needed her, giving generously of her time despite her busy work and family life. I feel truly blessed to have had Catherine as my friend for almost 40 years.”
Early pioneer of IABC London
It was during this time in the late 1970s that Catherine met Diny Dalby, MC, ABC. Diny, who was with The Blackburn Group, was working with a few other dedicated Londoners to launch a local IABC chapter. Catherine wrote a piece about IABC for WOB and with encouragement from Diny later decided to get involved.
Diny shared, as one of the chapter’s founders, that the initial years focused on recruitment and retention and, quite frankly, survival as a chapter. Karen and Catherine, and a third member, Gillian Bennett of Ontario Hydro, together developed a vision for the chapter’s future that the founding group never imagined.
Karen became president in 1984, followed by Gillian and then Catherine in 1986. One of the most significant decisions they made was recruiting John Burke-Gaffney, a seasoned public relations professional. Together Catherine and John took on significant initiatives including bringing a regional conference to London. According to Diny, “Catherine and John made a marvellous team with their combined influence reaching well beyond Southwestern Ontario. They put our chapter on the IABC map nationally and internationally.”
Friendship made at IABC regional conference
Diny and Catherine’s friendship endured after getting to know each other on a personal level in Montreal at a regional IABC conference. Diny reflected, “We each operated in a corporate world that still represented significant challenges to women and over the years we supported one another as we faced our individual issues.”
One example Diny shared was when Catherine led fundraising campaigns at London Health Sciences Foundation. Diny said, “As a board member I marvelled at her ability to reach out and captivate existing and potential donors with her passion for the work that was being done at LHSC. Catherine was remarkable, a consummate professional. It was a privilege to know her and to work with her.”
It’s fair to say Catherine’s involvement with IABC helped her move into a communications and public relations role with London Life. From there, Catherine worked at the Ivey Business School, London Health Sciences Foundation and KCI Ketchum Canada. Catherine joined Fanshawe in 2005 and in 2008, she launched the Fanshawe College Foundation.
Catherine continued to support the communications profession as a mentor for many and also initiated the Catherine Finlayson Award of Academic Excellence for a student in the Fanshawe College Public Relations – Corporate Communications graduate certificate program.
“Catherine was a dedicated philanthropist, an extraordinary fundraiser and a gifted professional,” said Peter Devlin, President of Fanshawe College. “She was well respected and I admired her tireless commitment to harnessing community support for Fanshawe. Her greatest achievement was celebrated earlier this year with the successful completion of the Remarkable Campaign with over $110 million raised – the largest college campaign in Ontario history. Thousands of students have benefited from her caring approach, and the scholarships and bursaries created under her leadership.”
Commenting on her talents as a fundraising professional, “Catherine was integral in the work of the Fanshawe Foundation Board,” said Nancy Maltby-Webster, Fanshawe Foundation Board Chair. “In 2008 Catherine launched the Fanshawe College Foundation where her commitment and passion for supporting Fanshawe students shone through. Her spirit of collaboration with community members in industry and the public and private sectors has resulted in numerous productive and enduring relationships for the College. Catherine was a true fundraising professional.”
One of Catherine’s Fanshawe work colleagues added, “Catherine and I worked together planning many of the Fanshawe’s celebratory events. She had a passion for advancing Fanshawe’s mission and vision and cared deeply about our students,” said Elaine Gamble, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications. “I appreciated her drive for always making the College more successful and her keen ability to engage people throughout the communities Fanshawe serves. She will be greatly missed.”
Juggling many volunteer activities
Catherine earned numerous honours as a community builder and her volunteer activities were many. To name just a few – Chair of the Advancement Committee for Colleges Ontario, Director on the board of the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE), board member of the Western University McIntosh Gallery and the Fanshawe College Alumni Association, board member of the Museum London Foundation, the Port Stanley Festival Theatre and the McCormick Care Group.
Tim Wharton, President of the Fanshawe College Alumni Association commented on Catherine’s ability to contribute to many volunteer activities. “When I first started working with Catherine and our alumni association, I assumed the association was the only organization that she was focused on because she seemed to be giving it her full attention. She didn’t provide comparisons with other facets of her job or really anything else that she was involved in at the time, when it was time for her to be focused on the Alumni that is what she did. I am personally going to miss her foresight and leadership.”
Catherine was remarkable
Throughout her communications career, Catherine worked with passion, integrity and dedication with a focus on making a difference with her work and volunteer colleagues, her profession and students. Her extraordinary impact on our community is deeply felt and valued. I’ve known Catherine for more than 30 years as a professional and as a neighbourhood mom, and I know she will be missed. Catherine was a remarkable woman, professional, mother and friend.