Sector: Legal / Charity
Catherine is a qualified solicitor, specialising in employment law and HR, and runs her own consultancy. She is also a trustee and founder of the Russ Devereux Headlight Project, a registered charity set up after the suicide of her husband Russ in May 2018. The charity teaches children about mental health, provides trauma, play and talking therapies to both children and adults and works in collaboration with other organisations to deliver workshops and workplace training on suicide prevention. It has a particular focus on supporting individuals and families affected by traumatic bereavement, and particularly suicide.
Where do you call home?
I grew up in Linthorpe, Middlesbrough, but I now live in a village in North Yorkshire with my family. I am a proud Teessider.
Tell us about your role?
My day job involves advising businesses on all aspects of their employment law and HR obligations. I act for a number of clients across the Tees Valley and I love my work. My other role involves being a trustee for the Headlight Project and I oversee the day-to-day operations of the charity. This role is very different to my day job, but I am so passionate about the work it does. It also has given me huge focus and strength following the traumatic death of my husband Russ by suicide in 2018, which was the reason for the charity’s formation in the first place.
How did you get to where you are today?
In terms of my career and day job, I did a law degree in Leeds and studied at the College of Law in York to become a solicitor. I worked in private practice for 16 years from 2001 to 2017 among some of the best legal brains in Teesside at the Endeavour Partnership. I had amazing training and exposure to work as a young solicitor and learnt that the best way to learn was to be thrown in at the deep end. I think that gave me confidence to have self-belief in what I was doing, although with law you can never know it all. I took the leap of leaving private practice and the security of an employed role to start my own consultancy in 2017 and as much as I had loved my life in a law firm, I have never looked back from taking the risk and embracing change.
What struggles or obstacles did you face along the way?
I still now and again have a crisis of confidence but in 2018, my life was blown apart following the unexpected death of my husband at the age of 42. Russ was a wonderful human being – kind, modest, funny, with a particular and brilliant sense of his own style. We had been childhood friends and from the age of 17, we had been rarely spent a day apart. We got married in 2004 and in the years that followed built a home together and had three beautiful daughters. We had a happy and comfortable life, blessed with the true riches of life, the love of family and friends. Russ had never suffered with his mental health and then in 2018, a light went out in my life. Russ was part of the family haulage firm and had dedicated his whole life to the business following his grandad, dad and uncles. However, in May 2018, a terrible and tragic accident occurred where one of his long-serving drivers died on a customer’s site. Russ become anxious and worried and what I can only describe as suffering post-traumatic stress from the driver’s death, which had a catastrophic impact on him. On May 10, he jumped from the Leven Viaduct. We just did not realise how ill he had become, and it happened so quickly that there was little we could do about it. It was like a bomb going off and since then, I have had to rebuild my life without him and keep going for the sake of our three young girls.
The strength I have had to find to keep going has given me the confidence to now face anything, because one of the worst things that could ever happen to me has happened.
Describe the moment you first got a feel for success?
I’ve worked on some amazing cases during my legal career – both employment cases and supporting large corporate transactions – and to know that you have assisted someone in resolving a problem or completing a deal is extremely gratifying. The first case I won was probably when I got a feel for success. However, the success of the charity is very different and for every person, whether child or adult, that we meet and are able to help, whether they’ve been affected by traumatic bereavement or struggled with their mental health and wellbeing, it’s indescribable.
Do you have any advice to aspiring young females?
Surround yourself with people who have a positive influence on your life – “radiators” and not “drains”! Victor Frankl’s work shows us that when we are faced with a situation (whatever that may be) that feels hopeless and unchangeable, we are challenged to change ourselves. Have faith in yourself and your abilities and don’t be afraid of change, however that may arise or the reason for it. Life’s most challenging moments can produce amazing resilience, courage and creativity.
What advice would you give for your younger self?
Live every day like it’s your last, don’t always be searching for the next thing, be happy with what you have and, above all, it’s people and not things that bring you riches.
What three words inspire you and encourage a positive path?
Am I allowed six words? Be good, be kind, work hard. It’s what Russ and I said to our children when we dropped them off at school. I still say it to them now. I don’t think you can go far wrong.
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