It is just over four months now since Rosemary Heard’s passing due to a short illness; on December 28th, 2020, it is still hard for her family, friends, and those whose lives she impacted on, even for the shortest time, to fully grasp that she is gone.
We were introduced to Rosemary through her best friend Karie O’Toole, our much loved and respected, long-time KBN team member. Having first met as teenagers growing up in Killarney, Rosemary and Karie’s friendship was one of those once-in-a-lifetime relationships. Somehow, they had managed to hold onto each other; through marriages, children, career demands, across an ocean, they retained that intimate, fortifying, true friendship that we often associate with youth, never losing the intimacy and connection that in the transition to adulthood often slips through the fingers of most childhood forged friendships.
It was Karie who paved the way for us to invite Rosemary to come back to Ireland in 2019 for our inaugural ‘Kerry Women Can’ event. We were honoured to award Rosemary, along with co-speaker Erika Fox, our joint first ‘Kerry Women Can’ award, in celebration of Kerry women who have left the county and blazed a trail in their chosen professions elsewhere.
For those of you lucky enough to be in the Muckross Park Hotel on September 5th, 2019, you would remember an exuberant and radiant Rosemary share the story of her almost 35-year career in the US, where she held leadership roles in both the private (Fortune 500) and non-profit sectors. With her huge spirit, she kept us riveted while she shared her story; How born in Aghadoe, Killarney in 1960, the only child of Richard and Louise (Talbot) Maybury, her journey to where she now was, had been winding and diverse. How after studying art and graphic design at Crawford School of Art in Cork, then working as a draftsman for an architectural firm, she left Ireland in her early 20’s to move to Boston. How the city, buzzing with the exuberance and growth of the early 1980s, was both overwhelming and thrilling to a girl from Killarney. She downplayed her attendance at Harvard Business School, focussing instead on her passion for spreading community values, for fostering leadership qualities in young people starting their careers, for trying to combat the housing injustices that she saw all too often in her local area, but more of that to come.
She shared with us how her move to Massachusetts early in her career saw her rise to project manager and then vice president of several development corporations before working with MassDevelopment, a quasi-state agency, partnering with cities and towns on redevelopment projects. She served as project manager for the development of a new pier in Provincetown, Massachusetts. She worked with colleges and universities on student housing issues, where she started what would become her life-long mission to ensure quality housing for as many as possible.
Following a move to New Hampshire in the mid-2000s, she shared how she channelled that passion and expertise to successfully lead Concord-based CATCH Neighbourhood Housing, a non-profit that provides affordable rental units and other housing services. Through her leadership and innovation, she transformed the “organization into a power player when it came to opening doors” and “as its president, she guided CATCH …. for 16 years, aggressively searching for places to build or renovate so lower-income people could afford a home, while simultaneously eyeing community needs through other market-rate projects.” She was also made an Honorary member of the American Institution of Architects (2018) for her work based on “her steadfast commitment to improving the built environment in New Hampshire’s housing sector using high-quality architectural design, incorporating sustainability and focus on the creation of livable communities”
She spoke of the importance of keeping an open mind to new approaches and technologies, never be afraid to grow, and to ask the hard questions of yourself, “Being good at what you do is asking people what you’re not good at,” she said, stressing whilst laughing to not just ask anyone of course, but those you trust, those you work closely with.
That day in 2019, no one foresaw the global pandemic; however, Rosemary’s forward-thinking and creativity meant that when the pandemic hit in early 2020, CATCH was ahead of the game as four years previously they had made a significant IT investment in the organisation. In a piece she wrote for KBN on April 30th, 2020, she told of how “At the time, we struggled with that decision as it diverted already scarce resources from programming. Included in that investment was a total shift to cloud-based computing. As it turned out, without that investment, we would not have been able to transition to a remote work environment seamlessly, and within twenty-four hours.” She spoke of how they “committed to transparent communication within our organizations at the staff, resident, and community levels.” And passing on an enduring lesson, not just for these times, that “Nothing breeds unrest faster than the lack of communication and/or credible information! Indeed, we see this every day in countries around the world that have transparent leadership versus those that do not. Early on, we recognized the traumatic stress that we all continue to experience as a result of the COVID-19 devastation. In response, we work tirelessly to ensure that staff have continued access to our Employee Assistance Program.”
She shared that while there may be tried and tested paths in life, whatever your career, the lessons of this pandemic have taught us that we don’t come into every situation with “a playbook, and therefore, we have to retain the flexibility to respond to an ever-changing environment.”
On that night in September, while she spoke of business, she focused on the importance of relationships in business, the networks that we build, the relationships which are crucial to furthering our own development and providing support during the smooth and not so smooth times we all inevitably traverse. She told us all “how honoured she felt to be able to come home and share her story with the Kerry Businesswomen’s Network of ‘loud and proud women who are changing the conversation.’”
She spoke of the importance of her own friendships, her decades-long friendship with Karie, her family, her many friendships throughout her career, her wonderful neighbours. She also spoke of her enduring love for her husband and treasured companion in-life Johnathan, who had accompanied her on the night, along with other close friends and family, her emotion palpable.
Today, May 2nd, 2021, Rosemary would have celebrated her 61st birthday. Due to the still-present COVID social distancing restrictions, she may not have held one of her famed parties. Still, we know that she most certainly would have celebrated, for she was a person who grasped life with both hands and always paused to celebrate those special moments.
She ended her last letter to us with, “In closing, if anyone can survive this pandemic, Kerry Women Can! Stay safe and healthy, and I look forward to meeting you all again in better times.”
Sadly, that will not happen; however, she has left us with enduring life lessons, and her spirit lives in all those who knew and loved her, and of those, there are many.