January 24, 2023

Reflections on Kathy’s Retirement

Canopy team members

By: David Walsh

I like to think I’ve made my share of good decisions in my life. There are some big ones – when I asked my wife to marry me (still ranks at the top) or when I decided to venture off and start a consulting business. But right up there was asking Kathy Wagner to join me in what has been an incredible eleven-year journey of building a business and growing a thoughtful and caring team of individuals committed to make a difference.

Kathy is retiring this month. After more than 30 years in the zoo and aquarium field, she’s turning her sights to new passions, pursuits, and hopefully some relaxation. Word has it though, that her husband Jeff may be the unwanted beneficiary of her attention; she’ll be dogging him to complete their unending kitchen renovation. 

But back to that decision. In a ‘Jerry Maguire’ moment, I said to Kathy, “I’m going to start my own consulting business, would you like to join me?’ Kathy, without hesitation (at least that’s how I like to think of it), said, ‘Sure.” And so, the adventure began.

She’s crisscrossed the country, sharing wisdom, offering counsel, and sometimes lending an ear to a tearful client. Kathy always said yes – to an early morning flight; taking on a challenging board interview; or to eloquently writing a last-minute proposal. She started early and finished late and never once complained…about those 5:00 AM flights, the time her hotel room in Hutchinson, KS had a view of a tractor, or when I told her for the 100th time, “yes, Kathy, I know where we’re going and don’t need those directions.”  She loved a good meal (we never ate at chain restaurants) and sometimes needed a good scotch to close out a day of endless interviews and workshops that ran too long. With hundreds of clients, through thousands of American Airlines miles, and countless Post-it notes, Kathy has been a rock star.

Kathy has always had a way with people. She once got the Mayor of El Paso, TX to play his guitar and sing a heart-felt ballad about fathers (it brought a tear to her eye…and mine). She stood firm when a City Councilor suggested a man would be better making a presentation to Council (she did it). She even was able to score a gig where we met Sigourney Weaver. But it’s her ability to masterfully connect people where she really shines. If you have a problem, she can find someone with the answer. If you need someone to join the team, she has the person. If you need a speaker for a panel or webinar, she knows the expert.

Kathy has mentored many and has had an untold impact on even more in this field. Her reach is unimaginable, helping to shape the careers and lives of not only those she’s advised personally, but through the ‘ripple effect’, so many more. Her accomplishments are many, but one of them that really stands out is her work to advance women in leadership.

From the very early days in her career where she blazed new trails and broke down boundaries, to the standing-room only women in leadership sessions she’s hosted over the last ten years, she has worked to make a difference in championing women in the profession. The work that our firm has done in this space wouldn’t be possible without Kathy’s efforts, dogged commitment, and passion. This may be one of her greatest legacies…and as a result, I believe that soon there will be even greater equal gender representation at the leadership ranks of zoos and aquariums.

While I know Kathy is done with setting meeting agendas, deciphering mission statement surveys, and coming up with new workshop icebreakers, she has promised she will still be around to lend some astute advice and offer a few words of sage wisdom to all those who call her a friend. First among them would be me. Thanks Kathy!

Canopy team members’ sentiments echo mine as they share their reflections:

“You have been such an incredible role model and mentor for me for so many years.” –Kathayoon Khalil, PhD

“I hope you know the influence you have had on me personally, and the impact you’ve had on our whole profession.” –Lori Perkins

“Working with you over the past 8+ years has been an absolute privilege, and your contributions to this profession are too many to list.” –Zachary Winfield

“Thank you for being you and for leaving such an impactful professional and personal legacy!” –Kim Lengel

“You have had (and continue to have) such an impact on our field, and on all of us personally.” –Anna Musun-Miller

“No one can ever fill your shoes.” –Dr. Jackie Ogden

“Thank you for your leadership, approach to inclusion, and your gracious consideration of all voices.” –Charles Hopper

“What a great, knowledgeable, energetic and fun friend to have the pleasure of working with!” –Dr. Eric Miller

“You’ve helped make my transition to Canopy a wonderful experience!” –Gabe Buckley

“You’re an inspiration to all who work in mission-based orgs and to all women in leadership!” –Kristin Elliott

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