Cathy Burge is a happily married mother and grandmother who enjoys extensive work-related travel for her job in research and development at lululemon. But perhaps she’s more well known, locally at least, for the impact she has with her volunteer work. Every Tuesday, Cathy and her trusty golden retriever named Zack visit with patients at Saint Thomas Midtown Hospital to help give a boost in morale. Today, we’re excited to introduce you to her as our FACES of Nashville feature. Welcome, Cathy!

Cathy Burge

Cathy Burge

Are you originally from Nashville?

No, I’m not. My school years were spent in the Northeast. David and I raised our two sons in South Carolina, and we made the move to Nashville 15 years ago for business reasons.

Can you tell us why you started volunteering at Saint Thomas with Zack?

I like to think that experience opens our eyes and hearts to inform the choices we make. When our son Mike was in high school, he developed severe meningitis. By the grace of God, he survived to face an uncertain recovery. He had a very long hospital stay and missed his dogs terribly. I took Mike pictures of his dogs, but it wasn’t the same. That’s when I decided to do this if I ever got the chance.

How long have you been volunteering like this?

Ten years

Cathy and her golden retriever, Zack.

Cathy and her golden retriever, Zack

Can you describe how the patients react to Zack and how it helps them while in the hospital?

The fun starts the moment Zack jumps out of the car, before we ever visit a patient! In the time it takes to hand my keys to the attendant, Zack has magically transformed the faces of hospital patient families and friends waiting in line for their cars. Seeing a golden retriever walk into Saint Thomas Midtown is completely unexpected, and the surprise puts a big smile on everyone’s faces. When Zack steps out of the elevator on the sixth floor, he definitely raises the laughter level! While there is a wealth of research information to document the many health benefits of interacting with animals, I know for sure that our visits make patients very happy. The patients love having their pictures taken with Zack! I thank Saint Thomas Midtown for allowing me to do this!

What inspiration have you received from your volunteer work?

Patients are going through difficult times with their health, and the uncertainty can make some people feel like Alice in Wonderland falling down the deep rabbit hole … concerned about where they are going to end up. I feel uplifted and inspired when Zack walks in a room and the patient smiles. Their smiles penetrate my soul. The visits remind me to keep putting my faith and trust in the simple pleasures of life, like shaking a paw, giving a treat and rubbing a golden retriever behind the ears.

Cathy and her grandsons (in mini-scrubs!)

Cathy and her grandsons (in mini-scrubs!)

We understand your real job is research and development (R&D) with lululemon. Tell us a bit about that.

Our company acquires rights to technologies and develops them into businesses. A few years ago, we secured the rights to a triple R&D100 award-winning, temperature-regulating fiber technology that has a history of use in the military by special forces. I went straight to lululemon for help with my R&D because I think their understanding of textiles is amazing! They can solve problems in minutes that take me a month to sort out! With their help, I am applying this new temperature-regulating fabric technology to the treatment of autism, ADHD and Sensory Processing Disorder. Very little research has been done to advance the use of performance textiles as a treatment for autism or Sensory Processing Disorder … the treatment focus has been pharmaceuticals and behavior therapy. A pretrial in Nashville proved the shirts made with our temperature-regulating fabric are effective in reducing anxiety and other symptoms of autism. Lululemon has generously offered us the use of their world-class research facility in Vancouver to evaluate the performance characteristics we have developed … with an eye toward their own applications. It doesn’t get any better than that! I love lululemon and Vancouver!

The boys know the right prescription: loving on Zack!

The boys know the right prescription: loving on Zack!

What is a valuable piece of advice you have been given?

When faced with an important decision, my husband always asks, “What would you do if you were not afraid?” I roll my eyes and then roll up my sleeves!

Is there an event coming up that you are looking forward to attending?

We have tickets to Dwight Yoakam, ZZ Top and Lady Antebellum, and then Kid Rock! We learned that Andrew, the young boy who lived next door to us for years in South Carolina, is the opening act for Kid Rock! Andrew grew up … and his band is called the Packway Handle. Wonder if he’ll still call me Mrs. Burge?!

Is there a recent meal at a local restaurant that has wowed you?

Because we travel so much for work, cooking meals at home is really a treat! Before Len Chappell worked on The Southern and Acme, he designed the kitchen in our home. The space has the feel of a South Carolina carriage house. I have a full Viking kitchen and love to cook for family and friends!

Cathy and Zack clearly share a very special bond.

Cathy and Zack clearly share a very special bond.

Where in town do you go when you’re looking for an inspirational boost?

Percy Warner Park is a blessing!

If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?

Parking! Yipes!

What books are on your bedside table?

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I stop by Parnassus once a week, and their reading suggestions for me are always spot-on!

Do you have any irrational fears?

Flying used to make me very nervous … looks like I got over that!

Do you have a favorite vacation spot?

I am completely happy anywhere in Italy.

What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?

A morning run or spin class, my daily yoga practice and City Lips plumping gloss.

Thanks to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful images. See more of her work at ashleyhylbert.com.

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