Lianne Laing hired as new executive director of University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation

Former TV host brings more than 20 years' experience of community outreach and storytelling to new role
Lianne Laing
The University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation has announced the appointment of Lianne Laing as its new executive director. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Lianne Laing knows all about tackling new challenges.

She jumped feet-first into a career in television broadcasting, without prior experience or training. She's also climbed mountains – literally.

The well-known media personality has just been named the new executive director of the fundraising arm of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, a world leader in cardiac care and research. She will be responsible for the leadership, management and operations of the UOHI Foundation. She will also head the Foundation’s new campaign to continue building the endowment fund for cardiovascular research, attract further support for its Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre and focus on other fundraising efforts.

Laing, 44, will be using her well-honed expertise as a communicator to pump up the profile of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute.

“I’m going to bring 20-plus years of storytelling to the forefront and build awareness in a different way," she said in a phone interview. 

Laing, who was headhunted for the position, officially starts June 30. She’s taking over the reins from award-winning professional fundraiser Jim Orban. He's retiring after successfully wrapping up the UOHI Foundation’s campaign to raise more than $100 million toward, among other things, the Heart Institute's state-of-the-art renovation and expansion. 

“Jim Orban did an amazing job at raising money for this massive campaign,” said Laing. “It's kind of like it reached the height of Everest and now we start climbing again, but a different mountain."

laing
Emcee Lianne Laing, left, seen with Mary Browne and Marion Martell, at the 2018 Jeanne Fuller Red Dress Charity Golf Classic held in support of the Heart Institute's Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips

Over the years, Laing has emceed countless charity dinners and galas. The born-and-raised Ottawa woman said she’s specifically looking forward to cultivating relationships with donors and attracting the next generation of supporters, through her new job.

“I love the interpersonal connections; I love meeting people,” she said.

Laing still has to learn the ropes, but if anyone is up to the task, it's her. She's a former competitive gymnast who knows all about intense training to obtain results. She earned two business degrees while on a full gymnastics scholarship in the United States. In 2014, she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro for charity.

“I’m coachable,” she pointed out. “And, I’ll have some great mentors working with me.”

Laing was fresh out of university when she was recruited by the television industry to become a sports anchor, and later a morning show host, with CTV Ottawa. In late 2017, she made the tough decision to leave her broadcasting career of 20 years to explore the world of entrepreneurship. She focused on public speaking and hosting gigs while also launching a new health and wellness podcast, Living Your Life with Lianne Laing. She and artist husband Tony Harris have two daughters.

"I think we constantly need to be pushing ourselves, and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone."

"I think we constantly need to be pushing ourselves, and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone,” Laing explained of her decision to join the Foundation. “I thought this was going to be a new way to challenge myself and to tell someone else’s story differently.

"I consider it a great honour and privilege."

Laing also has a personal connection to heart disease. She lost her father, restaurateur Jeffrey Laing, to a sudden heart attack in 2002. He was 57. Laing believes her dad might have lived had he reached the Heart Institute.

“I wish he had the chance to make it there,” she said.

Laing said she will continue to record her podcast, which has helped her grow both as a person and professional.

“I definitely think it solidified my passion for health and wellness, and I think it solidified my ability to do storytelling in a different way, and to be able to dive deeper into stories.”

As the new executive director, Laing will report to the Foundation's board of directors and to Dr. Thierry Mesana, president and CEO of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. She will work with her 16-member team at the Foundation.

“We are confident that Lianne will be able to put her strong community outreach expertise, her solid communications skills, and her creativity to use to support the Foundation's new fundraising campaign," Mesana said in a statement.

Elizabeth Roscoe, the UOHI Foundation's incoming board chair and senior vice-president and national practice leader for public affairs at H+K Canada, added: “Her exceptional talent and community-building experience will enhance the ability of the Foundation to support the Heart Institute as one of the most advanced centres in the world, dedicated to treatment, education and research in heart disease.”

The Heart Institute employs more than 1,400 physicians, nurses, researchers, technicians, and allied health professionals and handles more than 235,000 patient visits a year. Many of its patients come from across Canada. 

— caroline@obj.ca