After surviving cancer, Del Mar woman shifts focus to philanthropy


By Claire Harlin

Having just celebrated five years of being a breast cancer survivor, Del Mar resident Catherine Blair remembers well hearing the terrifying words “you have cancer.” However, what she realized as she went through treatment over the next many months was just how lucky she had been. She had the support of family, friends, and the funds and insurance to pay for the needed treatment.

“I can’t imagine hearing those words and not knowing who to go to or not having the money to treat the illness,” she said.

The experience inspired Blair to retire from her role as dean at The Bishop’s School and look for a way to help other women facing breast cancer.

She got involved locally with the San Diego affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, joining the non-profit’s board of directors in 2009. After four years on the board and three years serving as chair of the organization’s grants committee, Blair is now serving as president-elect of the San Diego affiliate, which puts on the annual Race for the Cure, which brings in more than $1.2 million each year for local breast cancer initiatives and research. The five-kilometer race will take place once again this year on Nov. 4 in Balboa Park, and Blair will be leading her race team of about 40 people. For five years, she’s headed a team sponsored by Manpower, a staffing company she and her husband are co-owners of, and the team has raised nearly $20,000 each year, with about half of that coming from the sponsorship.

Blair said the San Diego Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure is often confused with the national organization that organizes the well-attended three-day walk for breast cancer, which raises money specifically for research at a national level.

“We want to make the community aware of what we do locally in San Diego with the funds we raise,” Blair said.

As chair of the grants committee, Blair helps decide what Komen’s grant priorities will be each year. The committee does this with the help of an outside entity that assesses where gaps in local services are. Komen’s board then grants money to programs providing uninsured women with mammograms, surgery, chemotherapy and living service. Seventy-five percent of money goes to local programs and 25 percent funds breast cancer research.

Blair said it is incredibly fulfilling to be part of the grant process, and that carries over into her other major activity. The San Diego Women’s Foundation, which was started by her best friend, Linda Katz (also of Del Mar), who, with her husband, are the other partners in Manpower.

Blair has been with the foundation since its beginnings in 2000. Like many of the philanthropic group’s 200 members, she simply paid her dues for many years and voted on where the money went. Since its inception, the foundation has granted close to $2 million to a number of a local arts, education, environment and health programs.

But since her retirement, she has gotten more involved and serves on both the grants committee and board of directors.

“You can be involved as much or as little as you want,” she said, adding that the foundation is always seeking new members with fresh ideas. “One of the best things about being involved is that the women really energize and inspire me … They have some of the most interesting backgrounds and education accomplishments of any women I’ve ever met.”

You’d think Blair would have her hands full, but she also started her own business in 2010, based on a newfound passion — making needlepoint canvases. The idea started with her own project of crafting Christmas stockings for her family, which she latched onto and didn’t want to stop.

“I never thought of myself as artistic, but I realized I loved needlepoint and I loved designing and painting canvases.” Through her company, she is also able to support a cause she loves by donating up to 25 percent of each canvas sale to Komen San Diego.

For more information on her business, visit To find out more about the entities Blair is active in, visit