Our Mississippi Magazine
By: Judy Smith
It’s been said that the beauty of life doesn’t depend on how happy you are, but how happy others can be because of you. No better words can be found to describe the exuberant personality and love for life and giving back to others that simply flows from the elegant, inspiring Cathy Northington.
As the Chief Administrative Officer and Senior Vice President of the Mississippi Economic Council, Northington brings her boundless energy and warm, loving personality to each task that she is given or uses her “busy bee” attitude to stay helpful and busy by organizing drawers, straightening of shelves, or wherever else she can help when her work is finished.
The Jackson native began as a temp at the MEC about a decade ago but never dreamed of having a career in this field. After Northington gave birth to her second child, she decided to devote herself to her family and stay home to raise the children.
“I guess it was just my personality and my love of meeting new people that really brought me to the council,” Northington said. “I made friends with the mail carrier or the Fed Ex delivery person, and just anybody. I enjoy meeting new people and building relationships with them.”
When Northington’s youngest child, her baby girl, was six months old, there came an opening at the MEC for a Meeting Coordinator and President, and Blake Wilson thought she would be the perfect fit for the position after serving as a temp at the MEC. It was then that this mother of three returned to the MEC and has enjoyed her work immensely throughout her time there.
Two years later, she began the Leadership Program and oversees and coordinates Leadership Mississippi, the nation’s second oldest leadership program in the country, while also organizing the production of the Council’s three major meetings which hosts about 1,500 business and community leaders and elected officials, organizing and planning events, and a variety of tasks that are way too many to list. Three years prior to being officially named the Cbief Administrative Officer on October 1 of 2016, Northington was named Vice President, but now along with her new title of CAO she is also the Senior Vice President for MEC and seems to be the perfect fit for the position.
Despite her high-powered position, Northington makes giving back to the community a major priority in her life. As a member of the Junior League of Jackson, assists with Special Olympics, the American Cancer Society, the Madison Ridgeland Rotary Club, and the Goodwill Industries of Mississippi, Northington sees her work as an honor rather than an obligation, often recalling the very wise words of her grandmother.
“Whenever I get overwhelmed or tired, I think back to what my Grandmother would always say,” Northington said. “She’d say, ‘Cathy, it’s not always about you. To those that much have been given, much is expected.’ I’ve been so blessed in my life, and I just want to give back and help others succeed along the way.”
Despite being a 2012 recipient of the Mississippi Business Journal Top 40 Under 40 Award and named among the top 50 Leading Business Women in Mississippi for 2014, Northington’s most touching honor came from one of the students that was a Leadership Mississippi Class member. The class is comprised of the top business leaders across the state. Northington was very moved by the touching praise of one of the leaders of the Leadership Mississippi Program that took the opportunity to thank Northington for her powerful impact on his life during the year long program. Northington was thanked by the student for all of her assistance and direction, saying that she was viewed more as a mother figure with her caring ways and gentle guidance rather than just a counselor.
“That really touched me more than anything,” Northington said. “I truly feel like these are all my kids—even though a few may be a little older than myself, but I’m so proud of their successes. So, I guess I’m the ‘Little Old Lady in the Shoe,’ but I’m proud to hold that title if I can help others succeed along the way.”
It seems that Northington breezes through life, juggling family, motherhood, her high-powered position, and volunteer work without a hitch, but there’s a secret to Northington’s success whicch she revealed. She is addicted to making lists. There are sticky note reminders on her desks, reminders on her phone, an erasable board in their home, magnets holding notes and reminders on her refrigerator, and even a chalkboard in the garage to remind them of appointments, meetings, practices, and whatever might occur in the very busy Northington household.
“People probably think that we are crazy, but I just thought that was the best way to see the reminders when you’re pulling in or leaving out of the garage,” Northington said.
In fact, Northington’s addiction to lists began at a very young age. Although Northington was always given the freedom to express herself and her adventures, it appears that she had a very insightful old soul even at a very young age. While going through some old boxes of notes and papers, Northington found a list that she had made long ago of 40 things that she wanted to do before she turned 40, and with her “can do” spirit, you know she accomplished them.
“It was a crazy time, but I learned and experienced so much,” Northington said. “I learned to swim, I learned to work out properly, I went vegan for a while, I traveled, I experienced new cultures—just so many things. I invited many of my girlfriends to accompany on any part of my journey and many of them did.”
“I just really love life. I love living,” Northington said. “My favorite part of my job is getting the experience of meeting so many new people and helping them however I can. I love my job and feel so very blessed.”