OBJ will be highlighting some of its most popular profiles of Ottawa's community leaders over the coming weeks. This article was originally published in January 2020.
For Shannon Gorman, becoming president and CEO of the Queensway Carleton Hospital Foundation is a dream come true.
But the job didn’t just fall into her lap like a gift from the gods above. It took decades of hard work and hustle, along with personal sacrifice, for this dynamic bundle of energy to elevate herself to such a top executive management position.
“Everything I’ve done in my career has led me to being right here,” Gorman, 55, says during an interview at the Queensway Carleton Hospital.
Gorman assumes her new position with the QCH Foundation in early January after having earned herself promotion after promotion at the Cancer Centre, the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation and – most recently – national telecommunications company Telus.
“It’s a dream to be back in health care fundraising and at the Queensway Carleton Hospital, which has been part of my life for so long,” says Gorman, who was born and raised in west-end Ottawa.
Gorman has achieved success despite a series of setbacks early in life or, arguably, because of them, since they play a role in her resilience and compassion.
She was only three when she lost her 36-year-old father, Gerald, to a brain tumour. He was an Ottawa police sergeant and sole provider for his young family.
His untimely death meant that his widow, Gloria, was left to raise three daughters under the age of six. With only a Grade 10 education, Gloria found employment in a government typing pool before securing herself a good job in the public service.
“Honestly, she worked like a dog,” recalls Gorman. “We’d wake up in the middle of the night and she’d be Tilex-ing and cleaning the bathroom. She never stopped.”
At age 19, Gorman became a single mom.
“Getting pregnant was not my plan and it certainly changed the trajectory of my life significantly, but I knew I could do it,” she explains. “I had seen my mom raise the three of us alone and the struggles she went through, as well as the joy she felt.”
Gloria played an important part in helping to raise her son Ryan. In return, Gorman and her son took care of her for four years when she developed Alzheimer’s later in life. Gloria died in 2004.
Gorman’s post-secondary education consists of an MBA from the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management and a Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership from Carleton University. She received both degrees while working full-time.
'Dedicated and motivated'
Everything else that she learned outside the workplace came from life experience, whether as president of Pinecrest Little League or from part-time jobs to supplement her regular income earlier on.
Says Gorman of her drive and ambition: “You have to be dedicated and motivated and always working for the next job, instead of the job you’re in, by putting up your hand and volunteering for extra projects, instead of saying, ‘Hey, that’s not in my job description.’
“You have to ask yourself: what do I need to get to the next level, what makes me the best candidate for that role and then you go after it – and you go after it hard.
“I think that comes from the struggles that I faced as a single mom. I had incredible support from my mother, but there were times when I was rolling coins to get formula for my son. It was not always easy.”
Over the years, Gorman has been blessed with supportive mentors, from Dr. William Evans, former CEO of the Cancer Centre, to Linda Eagen, CEO of the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation. It was Janet Yale’s mentoring that helped get Gorman hired at Telus, where she landed another great boss in Jill Schnarr, the company’s vice-president of corporate citizenship and communications.
Most recently, Gorman was executive director of the new Telus Friendly Future Foundation, which was created with the backing of chief executive Darren Entwistle and made possible through a $120-million donation by Telus. The foundation provides financial support to small and grassroots charities in Canada that help disadvantaged youth achieve their full potential.
Gorman helped to launch Telus programs to provide high-speed internet to low-income families and to equip young people aging out of foster care with a free smartphone and two-year plan.
Furthermore, she got 10 additional Telus community boards under way nationally and internationally. The community boards provide grants to local grassroots charities that assist youth.
“I’ve enjoyed every second of it,” she says of her time with Telus. “Telus is an incredible organization.”
Gorman has good reason to feel that way: when Entwistle and Schnarr found out about her new job at the hospital, they made a generous donation of $20,000 to the QCH Foundation in her honour.
Five things to know about Shannon Gorman
1. One of her early experiences with philanthropy was through the Pinecrest Little League. Sue Prior and the late Jack Prior, who built Gallium Software, wrote blank cheques for any family needing help attending out-of-town tournaments. Their “incredible kindness” made it possible for Gorman’s son to compete as a pitcher in far-away baseball games. “It was my first time seeing what impact philanthropy can have on people’s lives,” says Gorman.
2. One of her favourite charities is the Youville Centre for young mothers ages 14 to 25 and their children. Through her work with Telus, Gorman established a mentoring program to help the moms find their career path.
3. Having children at a young age means not having to wait until you’re old and grey to become a grandparent. Gorman has three grandkids: Ava, 7, AJ, 5, and six-month-old Addison. All were born at the Queensway Carleton Hospital and live close to Gorman, with Ryan and his partner Lauren. Gorman got married in 2015 to Mike Hickey.
4. Gorman is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed with a rare type of salivary gland cancer when she was 34. She knew she was in good hands with Dr. Paul O’Dell, an Ottawa surgeon whom she also worked with in the clinic.
5. All the Gorman sisters turned out just great. One sister, Kelly, is a Superior Court judge, while another, Erin, works in finance for the Canadian Bank Note Company.