Ottawa entrepreneur Amanda Ruddy looks to use fledgling business to help residents ‘feel connected’ during trying times

Amanda Ruddy

As the eldest of five children, Amanda Ruddy had no choice but to learn how to get along with others, especially when her parents kept coming home with baby after baby until she was six years old.

“It was fun, it was loud and it was crazy,” she says now of those boisterous childhood years.

The Ottawa born-and-raised entrepreneur grew up in a large and loving household that hosted every holiday and birthday celebration, always made visitors and guests feel welcomed and helped instil a strong sense of family and togetherness.

All those social gatherings had a career-shaping influence on Ruddy, who’s now on the path to becoming Ottawa’s go-to corporate and personal party-planning powerhouse with her new business, amanda julia events. She celebrated her official launch in mid-November with a big bash at Common Eatery on Elgin Street.

“Anyone can plan a party,” acknowledges Ruddy, 34, who has an eye for detail, an ability to think on her feet, a vicarious personality and, clearly, a sense of humour: “I’m not saving lives. I’m just making life really fun.”

Ruddy grew up in affluent Alta Vista, graduating from Immaculata High School. She went on to study political science at Bishop’s University before doing a stint working on Parliament Hill for then-Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff, while also completing her master’s degree in communications at the University of Ottawa. The 2011 federal election was unkind to Ignatieff, leaving them both out of jobs.

Ruddy discovered the world of event planning after being hired by the National Arts Centre Foundation. She began working for its chief executive, Jayne Watson, before shifting to special events under the leadership of Laura Weber.

“I loved it at the foundation,” says Ruddy, who made the difficult decision to leave only because she’d hit a career ceiling.

Grey Cup party guru

Ruddy next went to work in corporate sponsorship for a brand new organization, the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. She landed the position after her second time applying.

She was soon managing OSEG’s events and programming in advance of the five-day Grey Cup Festival in Ottawa in November 2017.

The festival was a first-time event for OSEG, parent company to the Redblacks. Its packed lineup of events and activities involved extensive planning and preparation.

“For 18 months, I lived and breathed it every single day,” says Ruddy, who worked under OSEG’s Valerie Hughes.

In the weeks leading up to the Grey Cup and what would become a memorable career highlight, Ruddy lost her mom to breast cancer. Dr. Catherine Ruddy, 63, a well-liked and well-respected dermatologist, died on Oct. 26, 2017.

The loss of such a remarkable woman was a huge blow to Ruddy, who marvelled at how her mom juggled career, family and friends with ease.

“She was the glue in our family.”

Ruddy eventually took time off to properly grieve, but not before segueing from the 105th Grey Cup Festival to helping OSEG’s new charitable foundation launch two new signature fundraising events: its Women’s Training Camp and its Gourmet on the Gridiron. This time, her boss was OSEG Foundation executive director Janice Barresi.

“I’m very lucky to have worked for so many women whom I respect so much, have looked up to and have learned a lot from,” says Ruddy.

Once Ruddy decided to start her own event planning business, her pragmatic lawyer of a dad asked a few prudent questions. Michael Ruddy, a founding partner at Rasmussen Starr Ruddy LLP, reminded the would-be entrepreneur she had neither business experience nor money to invest.

“Great point, Dad, thank you,” Ruddy told him while remaining undeterred.

‘I have to pivot’

Ruddy got a line of credit from the bank – co-signed by brother Jake – and started creating her website and her brand. She also participated in workshops (Business Without Burnout), joined groups (International Association of Business Communicators) and volunteered with fundraising events.

Now more than six months in, she’s realizing the life of a small businessperson can be difficult. She’s struggling, as are countless other entrepreneurs, from the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Events are not high on people’s priority lists, and they won’t be for a while,” she says. “So I have to pivot.”

Ruddy is looking forward to the day when it’s safe again for people to come together in person to celebrate with each other. Meanwhile, she’s brainstorming ideas on how to throw “virtual” parties and mark milestone moments while adhering to self-isolation and physical-distancing rules.

“I want to help spark a little joy and creativity,” says Ruddy. “I want to find ways to remind people that just because we have to distance ourselves, physically and socially, doesn’t mean we can’t see each other and feel connected to one another.”

Five things to know about Amanda Ruddy:

  1. She has a “Love, Mom” memorial tattoo on her right forearm that replicates her late mother’s handwriting.
  2. She’s frequently asked if she’s related to prominent Ottawa real estate developer, philanthropist and OSEG partner John Ruddy. She is; he’s her uncle. She loves and is proud of her family but excluded her surname from her business title in an effort to build amanda julia events on her own merit and not rely on her famous family name.
  3. As far as businesswomen go, she admires Carole Saad, owner of LouLou Lounge Furniture Rental and Chic + Swell as well as vice-president of events at 50 Sussex. “There are just no airs about her,” says Ruddy.
  4. She voluntarily runs the Lawn Summer Nights fundraiser in Ottawa for cystic fibrosis. As well, she helped with the Snowsuit Fund’s SnowBall and the CHEO For the Kids Gala.
  5. She loves Canadian rock band Arkells, from Hamilton. She travels with one of her sisters and one of her best friends to see as many of their shows as possible.