Today my friend Cathy Montez died of COVID-19, which she believed she’d contracted at a spin class in Miami. She was a close friend. She was a good friend, an authentic friend, in that she wasn’t one to hide what she thought about what I did that pleased or displeased her. I know that what I saw in her was representative of who she truly was, which is so unique in today’s world. This meant I could turn to her when I wanted true input without the far-too-common barrier of women not always offering an unfiltered point of view. Who will I call now to get yelled at?
Humor? Her sense of humor was unmatched in all the people I know, and I know some funny people. And while her intelligence matched my own, unlike me, she was smarter about when she would show it. The thing about Cathy that no one else I know possesses, and what I will miss most, is her courage. She was truly fearless.
Cathy was an icon in the event community. She was in the tenting division of Classic Party Rentals when I met her. I sold my party rental company to Classic and headed out to Los Angeles from New York City to run the national marketing department for John Campanelli, who was the CEO of Classic at the time. I was in his office before we were to head to an event when he said, “You have to meet Cathy Montez, who will be there tonight. She is just as aggressive as you are, but smarter and better at getting things done.” Who would not be intrigued by that lead in?
We sat in a darkened bar in the hotel and chatted. What struck me then was her energy. She was full of enthusiasm and eagerness and was as quick as I to speak about one topic before moving on to the next. I found that her experiences in life were similar to my own. J.C. was right: She was better than I was at putting it all together.
Cathy was a single mom and cherished her son, Jeff, in a way that mirrors my feelings for my daughter. Jeff went to Yale and is a lawyer. She was so proud, but not just in his academic accomplishments, but in who he is as a person. Whenever we got together over the next 10 years, our kids were our first topic of conversation. And her grandson? Every single picture I’ve seen of him has her wrapped around him with a look of joy on her face that I hope he can feel forever.
But it was her work stories that slayed me. When Hurricane Katrina hit, she was in Florida. She decided she would take some tents and a crew to New Orleans and hunker down to be there at the ready when temporary structures were needed. She drove into the storm and took over a “motel” (which is a fancy word for where she set up shop). Her stories of her crew, all they did, and how they did it were truly astounding.
One guy came to her early one morning and said, “Miss Cathy, I can’t work today. My eye came out.”
“What are you talking about?” she asked.
He showed her his glass eye that had gotten scratched the day before. She ran to get him a patch, sent him out into the field, and I’ll be damned if my friend didn’t find someone to file down the scratch so the eye could be put back in place at the end of the day. Oh, the stories she could tell! And she didn’t brag when telling them, as I tend to do; she simply relayed the facts as they’d occurred.
My team worked at the U.S. Open in Shinnecock in 2018, and Cathy was there every day, all day long. And she was always on the move. One day, there was a problem involving bees. Frances, who was leading the Blue Shoe group, called to tell me that she could see Cathy walking down the fairway, decked out in a beekeeping hood. She was the only one on-site wearing one. Who the hell knows how she procured it, but let’s just say, her stories about procurement most assuredly support the fact that there was nothing on the planet that she couldn’t obtain.
I showed up on-site one day and took a wrong turn in a golf cart, ending up stuck on an embankment by the 18th green. I had to get on the walkie-talkie for assistance. All of a sudden, she barked through the walkie-talkie, for everyone to hear, “Who the hell gave Merser a golf cart?!” She was such a good friend and so supportive, and she never threw one’s weakness in one’s face. Ha!
I spoke to her in May about COVID-19. I was hunkered down in the Hamptons, and she was in Miami.
“Don’t go out, Cathy; it’s a petri dish there,” I warned.
“I’m careful,” she replied. She wasn’t.
She was short with me, as she could be if someone was irritating her. After our phone call, she disappeared, and I worried about where she was. We went for weeks without speaking, sometimes even months, so I didn’t notice until June that anything was amiss. When I called her and she didn’t call me back, I knew.
I realize now that Cathy and I didn’t have any mutual friends, which is an unusual thing for me. I tend to hang out in clumps. The industry in which she built her personal posse is not my industry; I was transient in it and never really fit in, but maybe that is why we could be friends. We spent pockets of time together, but it was always just the two of us. Whenever I was in Florida visiting the PGA Resort for work, Cathy would come up from Miami for lunch or dinner. During the six months she spent in the Hamptons working on the U.S. Open, I was her Hamptons friend, and we spent time enjoying foot massages and meals together. And during my time in L.A., we traveled together often.
I remember a particular road trip we took to Vegas from L.A. I’d told her, “I’m driving; come with me!” I didn’t fill up the gas tank before we left (so sue me), and we almost ran out of gas in the middle of the desert. She yelled at me for no less than fifteen minutes about how f*@%ing stupid I’d been. But as soon as we arrived at the hotel (with a full tank, I might add), she booked spa treatments for the both of us because as down in the trenches with the guys as she could be, she was also a girl, in the truest sense of the word. She was all about luxury and looking and feeling good. We watched the Academy Awards in our suite that night. While I was absolutely fried from the long day we’d had, she was the bunny battery that just kept right on going.
I last spoke with Cathy when she came off the ventilator at the end of July, the beginning of August. She told me she thought she was on the mend. She was out of breath on the phone, and we didn’t speak for long, but she said a few profound things: She told me that she wasn’t going to die because she wanted to live to see that f*@%er booted out of office on November 3. The other thing she said is just for me. When I went in to vote this past week, I took a moment to silently tell her it was for her. The last time I spoke with her was in early August. I called and left a message or two after that, and I sent a few texts, which she replied to with hearts or, “I’m eating a little.” However, in the end, she lost the battle, which I guess I should be able to better understand. Her caution-to-the-wind attitude toward life meant that she took chances.
There are women CEOs that I admire. And while Cathy wasn’t a CEO, she was a woman in a man’s arena, and, in my opinion, she played their game better than they did. She could negotiate; that meeting she had with J.C. the night we met was about her compensation, and she got what she wanted. She could motivate a team of men from the field to move mountains whenever she asked. I suspect it was because she was on the front lines of a physically demanding tenting/event-production job. Cathy wasn’t afraid to speak truth to power. She always fought for what was right for the customer and the promises she’d made, even if it pissed off a friend.
Cathy will always be a beacon for me in how to approach things in life. She truly lived, and did so without spending much time worrying about what others would think. She was conservative with money, and liberal with attentive support and counsel for what mattered to her friends. She made me a better person in my attempt to mirror some of the gifts she brought to my table. I will go to her often in my mind to remind myself of how women can be powerful and fair and ruthless and funny and loving, all at the same time.
I miss you, my friend. I miss you.