Cathie Cook, 73; McLean Hospital VP and fund-raiser brought ‘extra verve of the added touch’ to work and life
As she went about changing the face of fund-raising at McLean Hospital during her 17-year tenure, Cathie Cook brought to each task what she called “the extra verve of the added touch.”
Lavishing attention on seating arrangements for events the Belmont facility hosted, Ms. Cook ensured “that every single guest would be sitting next to someone with whom they would connect,” Dr. Scott Rauch, the hospital’s president and psychiatrist-in-chief, said in a eulogy at her memorial service last month. She relied on “a universe of details” such as occupations, affiliations, and travel experiences. “It was mind-boggling,” he said. “And she would do and redo the seating chart a dozen times or more.”
She took the same approach to all parts of her life and “explained that ‘the extra verve of the added touch’ is all about putting in a little bit of extra effort that takes something from good to great and that elevates the everyday,” her daughter, Abigail Cook Stone of New York City, said in a eulogy.
“For my mom, it wasn’t just a catch phrase, it was a way of life,” Abigail said, adding that her mother made sure to promptly mail handwritten thank you notes and also made the most of the daily commute to work. “Driving the same route to McLean all those years, she would look for that moment of beauty. It nourished her soul.”
Ms. Cook, who oversaw more than $223 million in fund-raising at McLean, including a $100 million campaign during her final five years as senior vice president and chief development office, died of ocular melanoma Jan. 10 in her Watertown home. She was 73.
Under her leadership, the staff of the hospital’s development office grew from two to 15. She helped establish McLean’s Board of Visitors, which helps the hospital connect with the community and mental health advocates, and the National Council, a group of influential ambassadors for McLean. Annual philanthropy increased by 368 percent from when she began to her retirement last fall.
“As I reflected on what Cathie has meant to me, I always come back to the fact that she started her career as a teacher,” Rauch said in his eulogy. “Even surrounded by psychiatrists and psychologists, I knew no better listener than Cathie — because she was so genuinely interested. She cared about the person and the message.”
Ms. Cook formerly was a seventh-grade English teacher in Andover and Weston. She had written her college thesis on the poet E.E. Cummings, and at one point was trying to “connect teaching English to the environment,” Andy Platt, a former Weston colleague, said in a eulogy. “She decided that solid waste was going to be her focus. In her quintessential way, she ordered a bus, took her students to the dump, and had them write poetry!”
She also invited restaurant critics from Boston’s daily and alternative newspapers to speak to her students, whom she then took to restaurants so they could write their own reviews, her daughter recalled in an interview.
And whether Ms. Cook was in a classroom or the living room of a potential donor to McLean, she had a “timeless sense of style,” her daughter said — “the red lipstick and the matching red nails, and done herself. She never got a manicure in her life, but always had those perfectly touched up red nails.”
Born in Syracuse, N.Y., Catharine Cook was the middle of three children and grew up in Norwalk, Conn. Her father, Floyd Harrison Cook, was a manager at a milk company. Her mother was the former Adelaide Judith Van Vliet. Like her father, her mother did volunteer work with Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts.
Ms. Cook received a bachelor’s degree in English from Keuka College in Keuka Park, N.Y. An avid reader and chef, she filled her poetry books with penciled notes and her copy of Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was “stained and splattered and very, very well-loved,” her daughter said.
Ms. Cook, whose first marriage ended in divorce, “really was a self-made woman,” her daughter said. Before joining the staff at McLean in 1999, Ms. Cook worked in development at Boston University School of Medicine, Schepens Eye Research Institute, and the Center for Applied Special Technology, which is now in Wakefield.
In 1986, she married S. Robert Stone Jr., whom she met through his brother and sister-in-law. She was 45 when they had a daughter, and Ms. Cook soon became a working mother and a caregiver, after her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
“I recently had the chance to ask Cathie whether she felt that life had been unfair to her in some ways — thinking about Bob’s progressive neurologic illness, which emerged so early in their marriage, and about her getting cancer, just when she was starting to think about retiring and finally having freedom to pursue her personal passions,” Dr. Elizabeth Kasen Ascher, a longtime friend, said in a eulogy.
“But she would have none of that idea,” Ascher said. “She said that she never felt that life owed her more. She believed, at her core, that she had been privileged — to be able to do her job and to care for her family.”
Ms. Cook seemed to fill every role effortlessly, though each was its own full-time job. Throughout the year she set aside time to prepare elaborate Easter baskets, collecting special items that might include “exquisite hand-painted chocolate eggs that looked like little jewels, antique bits of lace, a starfish,” her daughter recalled in her eulogy.
For Abigail’s fifth birthday party, Ms. Cook sewed 18 purple tutus, fashioned matching ribbon batons, and crafted pink ballet slipper invitations. Then she “hired a teacher from Boston Ballet to teach me and my 17 little friends how to perform ‘Swan Lake’ in the lobby of our apartment building,” her daughter said, adding: “What can I say — my mom really knew how to throw a party.”
In addition to her husband and daughter, Ms. Cook leaves two stepchildren, Julie Connelly of Wellesley and S. Robert Stone III of Delray Beach, Fla.; two brothers, Floyd of Lewes, Del., and John of Murrells Inlet, S.C.; and nine step-grandchildren.
“When Cathie first told me about her diagnosis, she remarked how the world had taken on a new dimension for her. She saw vibrant color and beauty everywhere,” Lori Etringer, McLean’s vice president and chief development officer, said in a eulogy.
Abigail told the more than 350 people who attended the service that her mother “was sick for two and a half years and she chose to keep it a secret. I’m sure you’ve wondered why. She didn’t want to be pitied by her friends knowing that her end was near. She was determined to live life to the fullest and have a little fun! She was never angry, never bitter, never asked, ‘Why me?’ She was determined live with verve.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at email@example.com.