It was a dream job, really. For years, television broadcaster Catherine Clark interviewed former prime ministers, Supreme Court judges, military generals, cabinet ministers, Olympic athletes, astronauts, performing artists and governors general.
The famous subjects revealed a side of themselves that was relatable and real. Her show, Beyond Politics, aired for eight years on CPAC (Cable Public Affairs Channel) until management decided to wrap it up.
“It happened suddenly and I wasn’t 100 per cent prepared for it,” recalls Clark, president of Catherine Clark Communications. “When it ended, I was startled. On the other hand, it made me pick a new path.”
Ms. Clark lost no time in deciding her next move. The following month, she took the leap into entrepreneurship and launched her own communications company. Not only did she land on her feet, but she proved work-life balance was no unicorn-riding Sasquatch myth.
She recognized that she would take a salary hit in order to build a business from scratch. But with the support of her husband, she took the plunge. Ms. Clark’s company allows her to offer her communications and video production expertise to clients in a wide range of sectors, while also continuing her blogging, her column for Ottawa At Home Magazine and her emcee work, which takes her across Canada and the globe.
“My deciding factor was, when I’m 60 and looking back on what I’ve achieved so far, am I going to say, ‘Wow, I’m super excited that I ambitiously pursued every professional option available to me’ or am I going to say, ‘I’m really glad that I spent every second that I could with my kids while they were kids,’” said the 41-year-old mother of two: Alexandra, 11, and Charlie, eight.
“I knew the type of person I am, that box number two was the box for me.”
One of the challenges to running a business is that, while the hours afford Ms. Clark more freedom as a parent, they’re also inconsistent.
“I believe that life is a stepladder, not an elevator. Sometimes you’re climbing up, sometimes you’re climbing down, sometimes it’s a lateral move. But regardless, as a mother, the key for me in starting my own business is the flexibility to make those moves as I see fit, even if that gets a bit hectic at times.”
Life in the public eye
Ms. Clark has lived her entire life in the public eye. She was born in Ottawa in November 1976 and spent her first two years crawling and cruising the floors of Stornoway, the official residence of the Opposition leader. Her father, Joe Clark, was head of the Progressive Conservative Party at the time.
By June 1979, Mr. Clark’s party had won office and the family moved into the prime minister’s residence at 24 Sussex Dr. until March 1980, when they returned to Stornoway. Her mother, Maureen McTeer, is a lawyer, author and advocate for women’s health and equality issues. She made headlines when she broke with convention by choosing to keep her maiden name after marriage.
Ms. Clark, an only child, travelled around Canada and the world throughout her father’s political career (he served in Brian Mulroney’s cabinet, with portfolios that included external affairs and constitutional affairs).
“It was a great way to grow up,” says Ms. Clark. “I regularly feel some sadness that I can’t provide my children with the type of childhood that I was exposed to, from all types of people and situations and events and travels and opportunities. They really opened my eyes to the world around me, good and bad.”
Ms. Clark attended the all-girls Elmwood School in Rockcliffe Park for much of her youth and spent her final year studying in Switzerland.
She specifically chose the University of Toronto to earn her bachelor of arts degree with a major in art history. It was Ms. Clark’s hope that studying in Canada’s most populous city might bring her some anonymity.
Much to her horror, she ended up at an all-girls residence, St. Michael’s College, run by Catholic nuns. Keep in mind, she went to a girls private school as a kid.
“I think I cried for two weeks, thinking I was going to be single for the rest of my life,” she jokes.
Ms. Clark switched early in her career to communications and broadcasting, beginning in Toronto before relocating to Ottawa with her new husband, Chad Schella. He now works for Canada Post as its general manager of government affairs.
Ms. Clark got a job hosting her own talk show on Rogers Cable before being hired by CPAC. She started with a Sunday call-in show but found the gig difficult, mostly because she hated having to interrupt people and cut short the conversations.
She successfully pitched her idea to host Beyond Politics and continues to host and co-produce documentaries for CPAC under its new president and general manager, Catherine Cano.
“I really was proud of the work that I was doing with Beyond Politics, interviewing well-known Canadians,” says Clark. “Being able to share their stories and to allow them to speak in a personal way about their own lives helped Canadians to understand them better. That’s why I continue to love doing the documentaries for CPAC, because they allow me to help tell the stories of some of this country’s remarkable buildings and institutions and individuals.
“I really feel I’ve found my footing as an entrepreneur, doing work that I love, with clients I respect, while still giving back to my family and the community around me. It’s the best of all worlds.”
As for a future in politics, Ms. Clark hasn’t ruled it out, although she says she’s not currently looking to run for office.
“If I ever did, it would probably be federal.”
Five things to know about Catherine Clark
honourof Canada’s 150th birthday, Ms. Clark has voluntarily embarked on an ambitious blog project, called #150GreatPeople, which profiles 150 people in Ottawa who are making the city a better place.
- She and her family live in Carp, so when she has downtown appointments and meetings, she heads to the members-only Rideau Club at 99 Bank St. to get her work done.
- As a kid, Ms. Clark had to learn Japanese. Don’t ask her to speak it now, though. “I can barely remember how to say ‘Hello.’”
- Ms. Clark’s biggest inspiration is her family. “My mom and dad, because they are examples of what you can be when you put aside your fear of what others might think of you and just do what’s right. My husband, because he’s endlessly supportive. My kids, because we all need to have a sense of purpose of why we’re here.”
- Ms. Clark is on the board of such non-profit organizations as CARE Canada, the Writers’ Trust of Canada and the Ottawa Community Foundation.