Meet Catherine Henry, Operation Lifesaver’s newest team member

Operation Lifesaver (OL) welcomed a new member to its team in November 2021. Catherine Henry is OL’s new manager of communications and outreach. In her role, she’ll oversee municipal programs such as OL’s Community Safety Partnership Program and its Operation Clear Track initiative.
A longtime political aide turned communications practitioner, Catherine was intrigued by OL’s purpose and mission. It was also an opportunity to put her municipal and stakeholder relations experience to new uses.
But when Catherine applied for the job, she had no idea how close to home the work would hit.
She spoke to OL about her personal connection with rail safety—and why she wanted to make it a full-time job.
What was it about working for Operation Lifesaver that appealed to you?
Catherine: I realized that it's a really good fit on many levels — one of them being suicide prevention. I lost my brother to suicide five years ago, so it’s always been an interest of mine to work in that area. Finding ways to promote the Today is Better campaign is very meaningful for me.
Also, when I was applying for the job I was visiting with my aunt and I talked about it with her. When I got home, my aunt emailed me and said, “Did you know that your great grandfather was killed by a train in Ottawa in 1940?” And I didn't know that part of my family history. So I dug up the Ottawa Citizen article and it's the same kind of situation we see today. Someone driving and they don't see the train, they don't hear it, and then they get killed.
So you have a very personal connection to rail safety. What do you want to contribute by being part of Operation Lifesaver?
Catherine: I want to help educate people about the hazards of railway crossings and being around railway tracks when they shouldn't be. OL’s mission is to prevent people from getting injured or killed in railway crossing and trespassing incidents. And I'm interested in helping to find creative ways of reaching people. Because I don't think it's a safety issue that many people think about. So how do we reach people who aren't necessarily thinking about the risks involved, whether they're driving or doing recreational activities?
How aware were you personally about those risks before you applied for this job?
Catherine: Let's be honest, not very. You know, I remember as a kid you’d drive over the railway tracks and the big thing was to lift your feet up. But obviously that has nothing to do with safety, it was just something fun to do as a kid. I grew up in the 80s and we didn't really have much parental supervision, we just went out and played and it's pretty amazing more of us didn't get injured or killed. I remember putting coins on railway tracks as a kid, which I now know is extremely unsafe.
What’s the most surprising thing that you have learned since you’ve started your job?
Catherine: I don't know if it's surprising, but I’ve been struck by sadness that collisions keep happening. I know that the number of deaths and injuries have gone down over the years, but a lot of people are still getting killed and injured. So it's just trying to grapple with that and figure out what other ways we can reach people who are in crisis or who aren't really getting the message about how to behave safely around railway crossings and tracks.