Cathy Woolard made history twice as a politician: She was the first woman to serve as president of the Atlanta City Council in 2002; and she was the first openly gay candidate to run for Congress in Georgia in 2004, when she lost in the primaries of the 4th district race to Cynthia McKinney.
After that Woolard eased from the spotlight, working as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood and Georgia Equality. She entertained, for a time, running for mayor of Atlanta before deciding instead in April 2008 to take a job in the Atlanta-based headquarters of global relief agency CARE.
She may not be as prominent in the eyes of the public as she was when she helped shaped policy of the city. But Woolard today plays a lead international role with CARE as executive vice president for global advocacy and external relations, a division with a staff of 175.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution caught up with her last week after she canceled a trip to Sierre Leone. She had planned to work on a CARE program for pregnant women in that country, where one in every eight women dies in childbirth. She instead stayed in Atlanta help coordinate relief efforts in Haiti.
Q: How different is your life now?
A: It’s not extraordinarily different. I still work very hard in a public service type role. I’m passionate about serving people in need and CARE is a great outlet for a new way to do that. I’ve never been too excited to see my name in the news on any given day, so this is a nice combination of doing something I love but with a little more privacy attached.
Q: You joined CARE about the time the bottom fell out of the economy. Did that make the transition tougher than you expected?
A: The last two years have been a fund-raising challenge. We’ve engaged in cost-cutting, including some staff reduction in the last year. Our donors have been very good to us and have continued to support our work, albeit at a somewhat reduced levels. [But] it’s important to note we didn’t cut any of our programmatic activities during this time. We just did more with less.
Q: Do you spend much time traveling?
A: About half my time. My travel can be as little as a day to Washington to work on advocacy on the Hill to weeks in the field when I am out seeing our projects and working with our country offices.
Q: How closely do you watch Atlanta politics? Who did you support in the mayor’s race?
A: I keep an eye on Atlanta politics, but I mostly keep my opinions to myself (and a few close friends). I’m an unabashed fan of Councilmember Howard Shook, with apologies to my other friends on the Council. But Howard is way funnier than they are.
Q: In your travels around the world, what have you learned about people?
A: How incredibly resourceful they can be. It’s incredible what people can do on such little subsistence. In countries where they live on less than a dollar a day, they can save 20 cents a week and in less than a year, they can buy a cow and put a roof over their head, or buy a piglet and fatten it up for food. It’s phenomenal to follow the transformation of their lives on so little to work with.
Q: How has the new job changed your personal life?
A: I live with my partner, Karen Geney, in Glenwood Park. We’ll celebrate our 22nd anniversary this year – married in Canada, but 22 years is still not good enough to get married in Georgia. We moved to Glenwood Park so that we could be among the first to welcome transit to the Beltline!
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