A well-respected partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP who went public last year with her multiple sclerosis condition was honoured Friday at an inaugural luncheon hosted by the MS Society of Canada.
Ellen Corkery-Dooher was recognized for both her contributions to her workplace and to her community at the Women Against Multiple Sclerosis (WAMS) Luncheon, held at the Ottawa Conference and Event Centre. The honouree is head of PwC Canada’s management consulting practice and has been a partner at the international audit and consultancy firm for the past 14 years.
The event, emceed by CTV News Ottawa co-anchor Patricia Boal, marked the first time a WAMS luncheon has been held in the nation’s capital. Similar events have been taking place in cities across Canada since 2005, raising more than $14 million for research into MS, a chronic and potentially disabling disease, affecting the central nervous system.
Canada has one of the highest rates of multiple sclerosis in the world. There are an estimated 77,000 Canadians living with the disease, with women diagnosed up to three times more than men.
The luncheon featured keynote speaker Zahra Al-Harazi, an award-winning entrepreneur and author, as well as Dr. Lara Pilutti, an associate professor in health sciences at the University of Ottawa. She was able to share some of the latest developments in MS research.
On hand were Lisa McCoy, president of the Ontario and Nunavut division for the MS Society of Canada, and its Eastern Ontario regional director, Kristin Harold, along with Sabrina Fitzgerald, managing partner of PwC for the national capital region and a finalist for a WBN Ottawa Businesswoman of the Year Award.
Among the notable attendees of the luncheon who live with multiple sclerosis were Kent Kirkpatrick, former long-time city manager with the City of Ottawa, and Jennifer Molson, who famously took part in a ground-breaking clinical trial at The Ottawa Hospital, involving a bone marrow stem cell transplant, to successfully treat her disease. The $6.47-million trial was funded by the MS Society of Canada.
As well, there was volunteer Hetal Kushwaha, who was diagnosed 15 years ago when her oldest child was turning one and she was also prepping to write her last professional exam. Kushwaha, who is a patent agent and partner at Marks & Clerk Canada, attended with her husband, Neal Kushwaha, who, incidentally, made news headlines a couple of years ago after he helped rescue a man while on his way to the top of Mount Everest.
Six years ago, Corkery-Dooher learned she had MS. It began with a case of blurry vision, followed by a year of tests. Her brother, François Corkery, who was at the luncheon, also lives with the disease.
“It was a terrifying diagnosis,” the emotional honouree told a nearly 200-person crowd that included some of her colleagues and clients.
It look a long time for Corkery-Dooher to feel comfortable sharing this part of her life. As a businessperson, she worried others might question her capabilities if they knew about the diagnosis.
She spoke publicly for her first time last summer, while participating in a cycling fundraiser for the MS Society of Canada.
“I’m trying to be open about what it feels like,” she told her audience.
"Living with MS is like living with that roommate you had in university and you just cannot evict her."
“Living with MS is like living with that roommate you had in university and you just cannot evict her. She parties all night when I have to get up in the morning and go to work, feeling exhausted.
“When I run, she trips me up and has a good laugh. She moves things around on me and I can’t find them,” added Corkery-Dooher, who’s taken to sticking Post-It Note reminders around the kitchen at home.
Corkery-Dooher said she manages her demanding career thanks to the tremendous support she gets from her firm and from her family, including husband Gregg. “You make waking up every day worthwhile,” she told him from the podium.
Having MS means that Corkery-Dooher challenges herself to live every day in the moment, the room heard. “You can live your best life with MS," she said. "My brother and I are proving that. Many of you are, as well.”
At PwC, Corkery-Dooher champions work cultures that celebrate diversity and inclusion. She has survived breast cancer, following a diagnosis at age 37. She adopts dogs from the humane society. She believes in giving back to the community by supporting such causes as the Ottawa Food Bank and Christie Lake Kids. In her youth, she was a junior councillor at CLK’s camp for underprivileged children, earning $75 a summer (of which she spent about half at the tuck shop).
Colleagues spoke in a video about Corkery-Dooher, describing her as direct and honest, thoughtful and caring, and unflappable and funny.
Attendees of the luncheon heard how Corkery-Dooher likes to keep a fast pace and always be moving. She's an avid runner, skier and kayaker. While participating in the cycling fundraiser last summer, between Ottawa and Cornwall, she peddled 87 kilometres — on a cumbersome mountain bike.
Corkery-Dooher plans to do all 200 kilometres this year, although she’s first going to upgrade her wheels. “I’m getting a new bike,” she vowed.