An enthusiastic leader of early stage life science businesses, Kathryne Carr brought new discoveries to both the marketplace and the patient. Her career began in 1983 in Seattle with a company pursuing early treatment for AIDS and cancer gene therapies. Three years later, she moved to Charlottesville where she shepherded breakthroughs in diabetes and heart disease. With partners at UVa and other regional universities, Kathy discovered new diagnostic and therapeutic measures.
Kathy was a founding partner of two venture capital firms–Tall Oaks Capital and Whetstone Associates. She had an incredible knack for not only encouraging inventors and entrepreneurs, but connecting people and ideas across the State. She chaired Southeast BIO, and served on the Boards of U.Va.’s Patent Foundation and the Coulter Foundation. Her career culminated as Director of the Innovation Lab (i.Lab) at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where she mentored dozens of budding entrepreneurs, including Tom Tom.
Kathy passed away this past April after a lengthy battle with cancer. In a life filled with service, she played an active role at her childrens’ schools: Murray Elementary, The Village School and the Renaissance School. Even throughout her illness, Kathy volunteered at Meals on Wheels.
This profile was compiled in part with Kathy’s husband, David Carr. The following are reflections from friends and colleagues.
I met Kathy Carr on a stifling hot and humid day in the summer of 1988. She was late into her pregnancy with her second child. We were both consultants to a company that was considering converting an abandoned auto dealership site into offices. As we walked around in the 100-degree heat and 90% humidity of the empty, non-air-conditioned facility, I could tell she was absolutely miserable, but she remained cheerful. Kathy never complained, and did not suffer whiners and complainers in her presence. She was smart and had a great sense of humor. I liked her instantly.
In our 27 years of working together on many different projects, it was these traits that I saw at our initial meeting that made her so effective and successful; a wonderful sense of humor was most useful in diffusing a tense situation, or in easing the process for a tough decision, and an optimism tempered by a probing intellect with a readiness to abandon a strategy that was not working and move on.
For someone who wasn’t an educator by profession, Kathy Carr sure did a lot of teaching.
She had a habit of being around just when you needed her. She was a mentor, a sounding board, a counselor, an incredible listener. She was generally the most curious person in the room. That curiosity led her to serve others. If she saw a need, she found a way to f
ill it and she rarely met a person whose needs she didn’t put before her own.
She officiated at weddings, taught teenagers Sunday School, inspired undergrads and graduate students alike. She was Chair of the PTO at Murray Elementary. Even when her kids moved on, she stayed at Murray volunteering as a Book Buddy.
Always available, always positive, always thoughtful, Kathy was a rarity. She had a sharp mind, a wicked sense of humor, and a deep empathy for her fellow human beings. She was a force and her life an exemplar. If you knew her, you learned from her.
Kathy Carr was obviously really good at whatever she put her mind to doing. This was illustrated not only by her career, but also how she faced her illness, with amazing courage and fortitude. She wrote early-on following her diagnosis that “Peyton Taylor has taken me on as his patient, he is a fine fellow, but I’m not sure he knows what he is in for”. No matter how difficult, stressful or awkward the circumstances, Kathy always handled herself and the situation with grace and aplomb; she was eloquent, kind, sincere, smart and lovely!
Several years ago, U.Va.’s Patent Foundation went through a difficult transition with regard to its structure, mission and leadership. During this period, Kathy was not just a “board member”, she was a friend, confidant and mentor to the staff, a supportive advisor to the interim director and a thoughtful consultant to the University administration. Especially during this time, she stopped by the UVAPF office frequently, not to tell folks what to do, but rather to listen to frustrations and complaints and discuss new ideas. These kind gestures had a remarkable, calming effect on everyone involved and enabled smooth passage through this awkward period.
Kathy was a force to contend with. She applied that will to the students she mentored. No one was going to fail on her watch. No one associated with this Incubator spent more time with students or was more dedicated to helping them succeed or understand why they would not. Beyond the Incubator, she was the “go to person” in life sciences in Charlottesville. Nothing good in this spaced happened without Kathy being involved. She will leave a huge void.
Kathy was a founding board member of the Coulter Translational Research Partnership. Kathy loved spending time with engineering students and took special delight in facilitating clarity of vision for PhD students lost in the weeds of their research. Her amazing vision, tireless mentoring and unparalleled dedication to this transformational program enabled the establishment of numerous start-up companies and ultimately were key to permanent endowment of the program at UVA.
Kathy and I met in 1986, give or take a year, while working for a new company called University Technology Corporation (UTC). I believe Kathy had just moved back to Charlottesville from Seattle. Our mission was to scout life science technology at the University of Virginia with the goal of starting new companies. She invited her colleagues from Seattle to visit UTC and put them up at at Farmington. Well, being West Coasters, they wore blue jeans and had to eat in the hallway, not the dining room. We all got a big laugh out of that. Kathy was a hoot to work with and our office was loud, even though there were maybe five of us working there.
In 2008, I was in the process of planning my retirement home in Kiawah, when I got a call from two young scientists who found a way to recreate human disease biology on the bench and predict success of new drug candidates. They reached out to me at the suggestion of Kathy. That is so vintage Kathy, always thinking of ways to connect people and make something great happen. To make a long story short, I “unretired” and agreed to help Brian and Brett launch HemoShear. Kathy opened her amazing network to introduce us to all of her colleagues that she thought could help. She is the most unselfish, altruistic, outgoing, family-oriented person I have ever known.
Kathy Carr had a vision for our community where good things could happen, ideas could be born, businesses built, economic opportunity created, values upheld, harmony sought. It’s hard to execute on a vision like that, but Kathy was undeterred. She did it by building bridges….lots of bridges. She was prepared and thought deeply about people and their pursuits. She built bridges likely in the wee hours of the night so that when she met with you she had a ready invitation to “walk across here.” She felt a responsibility to make all organizations in which she was involved better.
She was a pioneer for life science companies in Charlottesville. To everyone, she offered friendship. She connected with her warm smile, hearty laugh and looking at you squarely in the eyes – “How are you?” She understood the nuance of how ideas, people and collaboration can make great things happen.
Kathy would have never understood how hard it would be to write a brief testimonial about such an accomplished life. She would be deeply embarrassed, I think, by anyone making such an effort.
We were great friends, Partners, and colleagues for thirty years. Over the course of that exhilarating ride, we developed a sort of mantra: “We are ___________________ (Insmed, Whetstone, Tall Oaks, etc.) and we know a lot about what doesn’t work.” This wasn’t always thought to be the asset it seems to be today, but this part of sharing her knowledge and experience with others was an integral element of her great success as mentor, investor, operator, teacher and leader. Always imparted with such humor and humility, the recipient often didn’t immediately recognize how thought and behavior changing these real life case studies would be.
Kathy found such laughter and humor in things that occasionally beverages would shoot out of her nose, and she could be stop-a-clock serious when tough calls and lessons were warranted.
I saw Kathy’s vast reservoir of generous spirit and love in all parts of her life. Over the years I watched David and her raise two remarkable children (with running commentary), and I freely borrow from these lessons in raising my own. I watched her frequently share in the pain and sadness others bore in an injury or loss, to the point where I worried about her own well being. Kathy also allowed me glimpses of her own deeply private spirituality, and I am grateful that this gift helped spark interest in exploring my own.