Atelier Cologne’s vice president of global communications and digital, Catherine “Kit” Lai, 37, died suddenly on June 30 from cardiac arrest. Her unborn daughter also passed.
She is survived by her husband, John Darcy, and two-year-old son, Dashiell.
Friends and colleagues described Lai as elegant — a nurturer with big, brown eyes and a wide smile.
“She was so caring,” said Lauren Rodolitz, vice president of integrated communications for Kiehl’s, and a long-term friend of Lai. “I used to joke all the time that [her bag] was like a Mary Poppins bag…she’d have almonds or Kind bars or dried fruit — you were never hungry around Kit.”
Lai and Rodolitz met about 15 years ago while working at Behrman Communications. After that, Lai moved to Translation, TL Communications, Coty and Lancôme before taking on the Atelier Cologne position earlier this year. “That’s what we all wanted when we were younger,” Rodolitz noted. “I was just so excited for her.”
“Kit was always doing things to help other people,” said Stacy Mackler, vice president of communications and public relations for Lancôme. “If we had a team meeting at 1 p.m. — she would have made meatballs the night before, or lasagna, or chocolate chip cookies, and say, ‘I know you guys haven’t eaten,’ and just open the containers,” Mackler added.
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Even with her giving ways, Lai was no pushover, colleagues noted. “She was not afraid to disagree or have a strong point of view,” Mackler said. “She was very smart, not in an intimidating way. Kit’s warmth made you yearn to learn from her. I was her boss, but I learned a lot from her.”
“We were working on a story, and she had a feeling it might not be the right fit,” said SunHee Grinnell, beauty director at Vanity Fair. “She called me right away and gave me a full head’s up — some people might have waited to the last-minute, [when] things can’t change.
“She was an old soul from a very young age,” Grinnell continued. “She just had an incredible way about her that was very gracious and very kind, and she genuinely cared.”
“What always struck me as the Kit-ness she brought to everything was this coolness, this eternal positivity,” said Emily Dougherty, beauty director at Elle. “She was highly aware at any moment of how anybody else could be feeling and always wanted people to be feeling calm and cared for.”
In the midst of a blossoming career, Dash remained Lai’s priority. “She was at such ease with him — some moms get nervous — she wasn’t like that. She wanted you to hold him, she was just so proud of him. She got such a kick out of him, too — new words or sounds or crawling or running — everything was a moment that she didn’t take for granted,” Rodolitz said. “She was so excited when she was pregnant with Dash, and to find out that she was having a little girl,” Rodolitz continued. “She wanted to build a family — she was so dedicated to JD. Motherhood just brought out her nurturing ability even more.”
“Even if it was a work evening, we got to hear about what Dash was up to,” Dougherty said. “We all got the sense of feeling like we were part of her extended family because of how warm she was.”
“Our get-togethers weren’t just, ‘Let’s meeting for dinner or go to a bar,’” Rodolitz said. “She would have us over to her place and say, ‘Don’t bring anything,’ and by the time you’d gotten there, there’s a table that’s beautifully set and she’s cooked I don’t know how many options, and there’s Champagne.”
A memorial service held Monday at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens drew an estimated 300 people. Memorial gifts in Lai’s memory can be sent to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which she worked with “as a champion within her own organization,” said Christy Prewitt, senior director of strategic partnerships for St. Jude.
“Two minutes after the service began, I saw a dragonfly,” Grinnell said. “It was beautiful, it had iridescent wings, it was big. It came right in front of me and then it went to John — it touched the flowers, it went near her parents, it went to all her friends from L’Oréal…I thought, ‘There she is, trying to take care of everyone else, as usual.’”