By Dan Lalande

Kathie Donovan’s defining characteristics—her sunny vibe, her insatiable curiosity, her humanist-feminist stance—first became known to us through a single attribute: her voice. After her father scored his eight-year-old daughter a stint on a weekly children’s radio program, for which she was paid in candy no less, Kathie knew she had set foot on a career path.

Kathie is an ambassador for two causes focused on women over age 50: The Wellings, an independent senior living community, and Shepherd’s Fashions, for whom she models. Photo: Michelle Valberg

“I had always felt like an outlier,” she confesses, “even within my own family. Radio helped me to feel that I wasn’t alone. I knew that I was finally connecting with others, even if I couldn’t see them. And they couldn’t see me either, which was great. There was absolutely no judgment.”

Judgment has played a big role in Kathie’s life. It’s often been due to her diminutive stature, which encouraged jibes and occasional bouts of physical bullying. Her consolation was radio—specifically, CHOM FM, the Montreal-based inspiration for Ottawa’s own album-oriented, commercial station CHEZ 106. Kathie left la belle cite for the nation’s capital after finishing CEGEP. She apprenticed at CKCU before being handpicked for CHEZ. Aside from her duties as a DJ, Kathie co-hosted In The City, the station’s nightly magazine show. It was a perfect vehicle for her common touch, inquisitive instinct and palpable appreciation for the privilege of making a living in mainstream media.

She imported those qualities to television when CJOH TV invited her to try her hand at their weather and entertainment beats. “I was terrified,” Kathie reflects. “But again, I was buoyed by this idea that I was helping people like me to see that they were not alone. And the fact that on TV people can see your face created an even better connection.”

Capitalizing on her growing popularity, Kathie was invited to co-front one of the station’s flagship programs. Regional Contact was a lightly investigative look at the places and people that make up the Ottawa Valley. While the show was liked enough to run an impressive 39 years, Kathie’s 14-year stint had a profound effect on her. “I met many, many people who were outliers like me,” she explains. “Like myself, they had all given up the traditional lifestyle to do something that they really loved. They didn’t define their success by materialism. They defined it by how good they felt.”

It was an approach to living Kathie decided to build on after choosing to give up her television career. She parlayed her lifetime studies of best-selling personal development gurus into a book of her own: Inspiration in Action: A Woman’s Guide to Happiness. “Sustainable happiness isn’t dependent on anything outside ourselves,” she explains, outlining the book’s core philosophy. “It’s completely our choice. The principles I developed for the book give people a framework to develop the life that they want.” That, of course, takes a certain fearlessness—hence Kathie’s followup, Unconform: Harnessing the Radical Power of Courage. 

A self-created “happiness expert,” Kathie is now a regular on Toronto’s City Line, wows crowds at personal appearances, and is working on season two of her popular podcast, A Woman’s Guide to Happiness.  “My audience is women because women are conditioned to believe that if they take care of everyone else’s needs, they’ll feel appreciated and satisfied—but it doesn’t work. I help them shift their perspective to see that they matter and that their dreams and goals matter, too.”

That self-acceptance, the 72-year-old qualifies, includes embracing aging. “We’ve been conned into believing that at a certain age, we’ve had our turn and it’s time to sit in a corner. But so many of us are starting new adventures at that stage, taking up new interests and falling in with new communities. It’s that curiosity and connection that promotes healthy aging.”

As proof, there’s the vivacious Kathie herself. Not content to simply write books or make the speaker’s circuit, she’s a busy ambassador for two causes focused on women over fifty: The Wellings, an independent senior living community, and Sheperd’s Fashions, for whom she models, representing what she calls Petite Queens. No matter how striking you find her in a dress or blazer, though, don’t bother commenting on the youthful air it might afford her. Her next book is titled, You Look Good for Your Age and Other Things We Should Never Say Again. “That phrase should be stricken from our lexicon,” Kathie suggests, “along with the word ‘retirement.’”

Relating things to her first love, music, she adds, “We shouldn’t be waiting for someone to ask us to dance, we should be out on the dance floor shaking things up and enjoying every second.” Kathie’s books are available on Amazon.