Five things you should know about Barbara McInnes

By Andrea Tomkins –

Barbara McInnes sparkles when she talks about her tenure as the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of Ottawa, an organization founded by her father, Alistair Gamble.

CFO is a non-profit organization that turns the charitable gifts of many donors into funds that support a variety of local initiatives. Some of the organizations that have received CFO support include the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa, Bruce House, CARE Canada, and the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa Charitable Foundation.

Barb McInnes may seem like she’s relaxing, but she doesn’t actually spend a lot of time with her feet up. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen
Barb McInnes may seem like she’s relaxing, but she doesn’t actually spend a lot of time with her feet up. Photo by Justin Van Leeuwen

“It was a really satisfying career; I loved my work, I just loved it,” says McInnes, who retired after 26 years at CFO, 22 of them at the helm. “I really had trouble distinguishing between work and pleasure. It had me fully engaged.”

McInnes vacated her office at the end of December but stayed on until the beginning of January because of speaking engagements and an “overlap” with the incoming President and CEO, Marco Pagani.

What does she miss? She answers without losing a beat: “The people. It’s always the people. My staff are just brilliant. And the board members and the volunteers we attracted were beyond belief. I’ll continue to stay involved, but it will be in a different kind of way. And at a different pace.”

One good thing about retirement – the word is used hesitantly, because it truly doesn’t fit someone like McInnes – is that it’ll be easier for her and her husband, Glenn, to travel now that she’s not trying to squeeze it in between meetings. (Case in point: they zipped over to New Zealand for a 10-day holiday when she was at CFO).

She’s promised herself not to make any long-term commitments during her first year “off” and she’s determined to stick to her guns.

“I have had some very tempting offers and opportunities to serve on boards and get involved in various things, but if it requires an ongoing obligation I’ve said no, however if they remember who I am in a year, I hope they come back,” says McInnes. “By then I’ll have laid out what it is that I want to do.”

“There are some things I feel very passionate about in the community, but I really do want to have space for a year.”

It’s clear that McInnes has interpreted the meaning of the world “retirement” somewhat loosely. She currently sits on a committee for the National Arts Centre as well as the Telus Community Board. “Those things will continue on, and I have a few people I’ve been mentoring and I’ll carry on with them… I’ll have more time to spend with them,” explains McInnes.

Although she’s quite well known in Kitchissippi (she’s lived in West Wellington for 45 years) we’re presenting five things you may not know about Barb McInnes:

1. France is one of her “most favourite places in the world.”

It carved out a permanent place in her heart when she lived there between the ages of 10 and 13. She learned to speak French and made lifelong friends. Barb and Glenn try to go back at least once a year, at which time she’s been known to put aside her mostly-vegan diet. According to McInnes, the roasted chickens in French farmer’s markets are out of this world.

“It tastes like real chicken, not like something you need to add flavour to,” says McInnes. “Someone my age can hearken back and remember the way our grannie’s chicken used to taste.”

2. She’s been to an icy corner of the world many people will never see.

“We do enjoy travelling, and we indulge ourselves quite a bit,” says McInnes. Her most memorable holiday was an “unexpectedly fascinating trip” to Greenland. She reluctantly agreed to accompany Glenn on a business trip and it turned out to be the trip of a lifetime. They spent a week in the town of Ilulissat, approximately 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. The sun never set and they stayed in a hotel that overlooked a fjord where the icebergs calved. “Huge building-sized icebergs got caught on this sandbar,” explains McInnes. “You could watch them all day. It was fascinating.”

3. She has a very interesting son-in-law.

She’s quick to say that she has two very interesting sons-in-law but only one has a connection to the Canadian music scene. Her daughter, Emily, is married to Jonathan Gallivan, a Toronto-based producer, musician, and multi-media developer who also happens to be a lead guitarist in David Usher’s band.

4. She performed Richard III at the National Arts Centre.

“I fell in love with three guys when I was 12: Laurence Olivier, Richard III, and Shakespeare. I don’t know which I loved most!” says McInnes. She knows the entire first act of Richard III by heart. Last year, Magnetic North Theatre Festival asked her to be part of a fundraising effort called Don’t Quit Your Day Job and she agreed to perform Richard III on stage. “My performance was well received but I’ve never been asked back,” laughs McInnes. Her stage debut happened to take place the day before the board meeting at which she announced her retirement.

5. There’s a big question mark hanging over her head at the moment.

“I’m passionate about so many things,” says McInnes. “My difficulty is really handling that, because I want to get involved in everything. I’m really looking forward to making a difference… with something. There are some really tempting initiatives out there that I can’t wait to get involved in.”

Two bonus things for readers:

6. Barb is “exceptionally good” at driving a Plasma car.

If there are your children in your life you probably already know what this is.

7.  She’s a reading machine.

“I have a whole lot of novels, and they’ve been piling up for years. Last week I think read four novels. It’s the kind of thing you don’t do when you’re working so hard.”

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