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Women Leading Central Mass: Worcester City Councilor Kate Toomey

Monday, July 22, 2013


Kate Toomey has been making a difference in Worcester Public Schools, among other public and community services.

Speaking with Kathleen M. (Kate) Toomey of Worcester, MA, it is immediately obvious that she is one of the city’s biggest boosters and a passionate advocate for Worcester Public Schools. The Vice President of Community and External Affairs for Autumn Village Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Worcester and for Sterling Village Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Sterling, Toomey is also serving her fourth two-year term as a Worcester City Councilor-At-Large.

A former elementary and secondary school teacher in the Boston Public Schools, Toomey is also a former member of the Worcester School Committee. She served as Vice President for Junior Achievement of Central MA and was co-chair of the Citywide Parents Planning Advisory Council to advocate, lobby and fundraise for Worcester Public Schools.

Toomey has been the recipient of numerous awards including: Park Spirit MVP Award, 2003; Recipient of the Center for Women In Politics & Public Policy, UMASS Boston Honor for Women Making a Difference in Worcester, 2012; Worcester Magazine’s Best Of Worcester 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012, 2013 Best City Councilor; Dr. George Storms Smith Youth Service Award; One of City Living’s Most Influential Women, 2006; and the Thomas Jefferson Award Recipient, 2004.

She received a BA in Art/Education from Regis College, Weston, MA and earned graduate credits in Public Administration from Northeastern University, Boston. Married to Stephen R. Toomey, she is the mother of two daughters and one son, all who graduated from Worcester Public Schools.

A conversation with Kate Toomey

SW: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Kate Toomey?

KT: LOL, there is no such a day as typical. I will say they are very long. Meetings for work, connecting with communities, staying on top of developments in Health Care, writing press releases, learning how to screen patients, intermittently working with constituents, more meetings, both work and community, finally getting home, hopefully getting a few minutes to talk to my husband and daughter, and exchange a call or text with my other two children…oh, and find something to eat, because I forgot to eat during the day!

SW: When did you become motivated to become active in politics?

KT: It may have been part of growing up, watching my Uncle Joe Tinsley and his roles as Councilor and Mayor in Worcester. I always wanted to run for office, to make a difference somehow. I took on leadership roles in College, helped resurrect the College Dems group on campus and worked as a precinct captain for Kevin White, the late, great Mayor of Boston. I interned at the Mayor’s Office of Housing and then worked in the Mayors’ Office of Marketing and Development.

SW: What led you to your current career path?

KT: Which one? For Politics, it was my oppositional defiance disorder, I didn’t like what was happening in the schools, and all I needed was a little prompting, which Brian O’Connell, a School Committee Member helped me with. Well, also the personal and financial commitment from my husband and family. After six years I realized that I could make a difference as a City Councilor and despite everyone telling me I couldn’t win an at large seat on the Council, I did.

For Health Care, I was hired because I knew how to run a campaign. The world truly is small, and the CEO of the Skilled Nursing Home was my former Ward Boss and Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing! Marketing is more than just buying ads. It is connecting with the public, knowing the communities. I’ve learned and am learning about health care every day.

SW: What are your priorities as a city councilor?

KT: As a city councilor, I believe that community policing and special efforts to protect the public's safety should be our highest priority. I also see promoting business expansion within the city limits, initiatives to improve the quality of life and infrastructure improvements for our public schools to be areas of priority.

SW: You are always actively engaged in public and community service. What accomplishments are you the most proud of?

KT: I have to put my family first as my number 1 accomplishment. We have three fabulous kids. My husband and I have been married 27 years, I think that is major. I am fortunate enough to have married my best friend and number one cheerleader.

I am very proud to be the first woman to be named Chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Works, which deals with all matters pertaining to streets, water, sewers, sanitation, recycling, snow removal and the construction of public buildings. Politics can still be considered very much a man’s world so it is an honor to be respected in a position traditionally held by men.

For eight years, I led an effort, under the name of Set for Success, Backpack and School Supply Drive for Homeless and Disadvantaged Youth. The initiative was developed in collaboration with Friendly House. Since its inception, we have provided over 10,000 children with the tools they need to succeed in school.

I am also an Ex-Officio member of the Box 4 Canteen Truck, which services first responders during all emergencies within a 65-mile radius of Worcester. The all-volunteer members of Box 4 Canteen Truck can provide up to 1700 meals in a day and the truck offers respite and a bathroom during difficult crisis situations.

Another area that I have been actively involved in is our parks. Both as a former president of Park Spirit of Worcester and a supporter actively engaged in raising over $300,000 for pools and parks. We have raised over $10,000 for sports, arts and robotics for the Worcester Public Schools, and for the various baseball and softball leagues throughout the city.

SW: What do you attribute your success to?

KT: My late mother. Everything that I am today, I owe to her, and to my biological mother for giving me the opportunity to be raised by such an incredible woman. My mother grew up on Channing St, the only daughter of Jack and Theresa Tinsley. She was brilliant. Charming. A true lady. She graduated from Regis College in 1949, (North High Class of ’45) Suma Cum Laude. She then married my father, had my older brother, and then prayed the Rosary for six years to have another child. She then did the same for three more years for my brother. We were her life. I once asked her, being a child of the seventies, how she could stay home and be a housewife. She told me that she needed every part of her education to make sure that she did the best job as a mother. I couldn’t respect anyone more than her. And my husband and children. It has always been about team, and my husband was there every step of the way. As were our children. My family has always taken the time to campaign for me.

SW: What have you learned about balancing work and personal life?

KT: Still working on that…it’s a good thing I married a saint! He cooks, cleans, he is my rock. I have learned to always take a step back when necessary and ask what is really important.

SW: What is the something that few people know about you?

KT: That I am a pretty good artist and I love to sew. I am very good with tools and love to fix things. Oh, and I knit!

SW: You have struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder. How has that affected your life?

KT: I have about 15 knitting projects and 7 or 8 sewing projects unfinished! I was not diagnosed until I was 37 and I am a textbook case but without any hyperactivity. I have done all the things that I should including counseling, modifications where needed, and medication. With my palm pilot and now a smart phone, I am able to keep track of everything in my roles as caregiver, parent, professional and public servant. I have been successful in raising children and enjoyed a wonderful career so despite the downside of dealing with ADD, it has all worked out.

SW: Any special plans for the future?

Whatever God sends my way. I would love to be hired by the citizens of Worcester for another term, so I can continue to help move us in the right direction. Advocate for sewers on Rte 20 for development and bring more business in to the City. I am strongly committed to helping to make a difference for people who have hit a dead end and can’t get anyone else to help. On a personal level, I hope someday to be a grandmother, and just enjoy every experience that comes my way, with my best friend, my husband.


“There is nothing so powerful as a new idea in the hands of a first class entrepreneur.” With more than 25 years of leadership experience, Susan Wagner has been known for driving events, initiatives, launches, and openings through her company SusanWagner PR. In this challenging economy, she has begun a new division to offer affordable start-up packages to new and emerging small businesses and non-profit organizations that include professional writing services, websites, collateral, marketing, social media grassroots outreach and regional PR campaigns.


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