Catherine A. Pierre, director of communications for the Johns Hopkins SNF Agora Institute and former associate editor of Baltimore magazine, died Oct. 27 of a massive heart attack at her Butchers Hill home. She was 53.
“Catherine was the spirit of our institute and we worked very closely and she brought an incredible balance to the institute,” said Stephen Ruckman, managing director of SNF Agora.
“She put humanity first, she saw us as people first, and colleagues second. She was a champion of building local democracies and empowering the people of the city of which she cared deeply,” he said.
Catherine Ann Pierre, daughter of Michael Pierre, former CFO of RxTrials Inc., and Colleen Pierre, was born in Baltimore and raised in the city’s Idlewood neighborhood.
After graduating from Mercy High School, Ms. Pierre earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1994 from the University of Maryland, College Park and obtained a master’s degree in English literature in 1996 from Indiana University Bloomington.
Ms. Pierre began her professional communications career in 1996 when she applied for the post of copy editor at Baltimore magazine.
“The ideal candidate would be a perfectionistic, I told her, ‘but not a needlingly perfectionistic.’ She assured me this described her — perfectly,” wrote Ramsey Flynn, former editor of Baltimore magazine, in an email to Baltimore writer Van Smith, Ms. Pierre’s husband of 15 years.
“Catherine was a very big deal. A lot of people are flaky, odd or nervous during job interviews but she struck me right away as being utterly clear-eyed,” Mr. Flynn said in a telephone interview. “She seemed sharp, and everything she said was clear and composed.”
It was Mr. Flynn’s hope that she wouldn’t succumb to the “writer’s bug,” he wrote in the email, and would stay in the copy editing position for a long time, but within a few months, she explained she wanted to write, and he gave in.
She was given writing assignments and she learned a valuable lesson after filing her first story.
“I criticized it as being too academic, and too encyclopedic. I know she was hurt but I told her it had to be different,” Mr. Flynn said. “It needed dramatic tension and different writing to propel readers through a 3,000-word story that was for public consumption and she kept that promise.”
Ms. Pierre was named arts editor, while still holding on to the role of copy chief and was later named the magazine’s associate editor.
“One of the other things that struck me about Catherine was that she was utterly ego-free,” Mr. Flynn said. “Her ascent was based on competency, creativity and poise. She always had the right thing to say and made the right judgments. She was fabulously, sublimely skilled and the ultimate clarifier.”
In 2000, Ms. Pierre left the magazine when she was appointed public relations manager at what is now The Walters Art Museum where her responsibilities included handling media relations and overseeing the museum’s publications and website.
She made another career change in 2003 when she went to Hopkins as associate editor of Johns Hopkins Magazine, and four years later, was appointed its editor.
Ms. Pierre then served as editorial director of the university’s central communications office, interim vice president for communications, director of communications and later senior director of integrated marketing.
“I worked with Catherine in University Communications when I first came to Baltimore and she welcomed me to the team,” said Tricia Schellenbach, who is now senior director of family engagement at JHU’s Center for Talented Youth.
“She was a gifted editor and she was someone who worked well with people because she was so human,” Ms. Schellenbach said. “She was multidimensional when it came to working with people who were around her.”
In 2019, she joined SNF Agora Institute as director of communications, where she played an instrumental role in co-creating its conferences in Greece; local programs including the annual Elijah E. Cummings Democracy and Freedom Festival; and a “series of case studies designed to help practitioners deepen skills, develop insights about strategic choices and dilemmas, and collaborate more effectively,” according to a Hopkins profile announcing her death.
“Catherine was an extraordinary colleague, friend, and leader,” Hahrie Han, inaugural director of SNF Agora and professor in the department of political science at Hopkins, commented in the profile.
“She played a pivotal role in shaping the SNF Agora Institute from its earliest days, not only with her professional acumen, but also with her spirit. She brought joy, an irreverent humor, and a capacious humanity to our community that we will all miss deeply. The institute simply would not be what it is without her,” Ms. Han said.
“She was an absolute pleasure to work with and brought a high level of professionalism to her work and had high standards,” Mr. Ruckman said. “She wanted to make our projects more effective and she helped us carry them forward."
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He added; “Catherine lived so fully and was always true to herself.”
Ms. Pierre was an avid reader and enjoyed knitting, baking, Pilates, the beach and spending time at a cabin she and her family owned near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.
“We had just purchased a 34-foot retirement sailboat, the Crew Zen,” her husband said. “Catherine loved to relax and was interested in relaxing.”
She was also a fan of the city.
“She told me I should live in Fells Point and not heeding Catherine’s advice you did at your own peril,” Ms. Schellenbach said. “She was such a part of the fabric of Baltimore and the fabric of the Baltimore that became mine that I learned from her.”
Services were held Saturday at Mason Hall on the Hopkins’ Homewood campus.
In addition to her husband, Ms. Pierre is survived by two daughters, Rye Smith Pierre, 14, a student at Baltimore City College, and Olive Smith Pierre, 12, who attends Roland Park Middle School; her father, Michael Pierre, of Odenton; her mother, Colleen Manescu, and stepfather, Ted Manescu, of Parkville; a brother, Michael Pierre Jr., of Jacksonville Beach, Florida; and a sister, Bobbi Pierre, of Parkville.