Kate O’Sullivan

“Since death alone is certain, and the time of death uncertain, what should I do?” Stephen Batchelor

I have been trying all week to find a way to post about Kate O’Sullivan. I’ve been trying to talk about all she has meant to the work of this sector, and to find words to talk about how much it feels like someone knocked the wind out of me, to know that the world is suddenly without her.

Finally tonight I figure I will just write and see what comes out.

From the time I met Kate, via email and over the phone, I have thought of her as a legend, feeling honored just to know her. 20 years ago, Kate realized that voluntary organizations in her native Ireland were operating from kitchen tables and living rooms – and that they could never reach their potential to improve their communities if that kept up.

That was the impetus for her founding Carmichael Centre. Here is what Carmichael Centre’s website says about who they are now:

Carmichael Centre for Voluntary Groups is a centre for small voluntary organisations. The principal objective of the Centre is to nurture and support the development of small voluntary groups, providing an environment which stimulates this development. The Centre now has 44 resident member organisations working in a variety of areas including health, social care, the environment, the arts, disability, education and sport. Over 350 organisations avail themselves of the Centre’s services and supports and training programmes on a regular basis.

Having brought attention to the need for more formalized organizational structures in Ireland, and having done something about it, Kate homed in on the need even further. Realizing what a force for change these organizations could be, she founded the Volunteer Resource Centre – what is now Volunteering Ireland. And of course that led to other realizations and actions – the need for support for such volunteers, the need to link volunteers to organizations.

And from there, of course, the logical leap to building capacity for such organizations, creating the Training Support Service within Carmichael Centre.

Kate and Carmichael Centre have become one of the most integral parts of virtually everything this sector is and does in Ireland. As she and I spoke about connections the centre had with so many influential people in Ireland, I was in awe at how much one person had been able to do.

Kate and I met about 2 years ago, via email and then via phone. I was always thrilled when I would get off the phone with her or receive an email telling me what new thing she had cooking – I loved her commitment to always moving things to the next step, to create more impact. She saw the potential this sector has for creating the future our world, and she was excited by that. I suspect her clear vision about that potential was a large part of what drove her work.

I had written last week to ask Kate if she would be on the peer review team for my book. It will be done in the next month, and will be ready to have folks I admire and respect tell me where all the potholes are in this first draft.

And that was when I got a note from her staff, that Kate passed away suddenly on May 17th. She was working at Carmichael Centre, where she collapsed from a brain hemorrhage. She was gone within 24 hours. She was 61 years old. The email felt like someone had slapped me.

While most of the readers at this blog may never have heard of Kate O’Sullivan, I hope you will admire her work as I have. And so here is a link to Carmichael Centre, where you will find a tribute to Kate, and where you will be able to see a small part of what she created. And I say “a small part,” because what Kate created is really all over the whole country.

I encourage you to click on the donation button, and do a little something to pay tribute to the incredible work of this incredible woman.

And then I encourage you to do one more thing – to realize that life is precious and uncertain and short. Be what you can be every day, and tell the people you love that you love them.

Have a great weekend, all.

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