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FMI's Leslie Sarasin Reflects on Legacy of Cathy Polley

Editor's Note: Following the passing of Cathy Polley, Food Marketing Institute's (FMI) VP health and wellness and executive director of the FMI Foundation, who died earlier this week after courageously battling ovarian cancer since 2010, Leslie G. Sarasin, president/CEO of the Arlington, Va.-based trade association, shared personal reflections with Progressive Grocer on Polley's lasting legacy.

PG: Please comment on what you believe are the most significant contributions Cathy made to the industry on behalf to FMI members?

Sarasin: Cathy was a pharmacist by training, and if you could have peeked into the core of her being, you would have found a deep commitment to wellness. She understood the links between health professionals and our industry in a way that was inspiring to hear, refreshing to see and easy to grasp. Grounded in science, she frequently began sentences with, “As a pharmacist…,” but then quickly drew upon her personal and professional experiences and related the needs of customers back to the business environment. She worked in retail for many years, so the initiatives she spearheaded in health and wellness were practical, applicable and addressed real concerns in a realistic fashion. 

Her clear vison, insightful demeanor and casual wisdom inspired others and motivated the food retail industry to adopt change. Under her leadership, she spearheaded our sponsorship and the inception of the Retail Dietitian Business Alliance, a platform for dietitians within the food retail community to influence merchandising and in-store wellness initiatives; she led an annual assessment of retailers’ contributions to health and wellness that quantified our industry’s impact on health and health care initiatives among grocery stores; she helped guide our members through the seismic changes associated with the Affordable Care Act; she provided resources to food retailers with pharmacies when the biggest PBM's merged; and she will long be remembered for championing the first annual National Family Meals Month campaign. 

PG: What is most special to note about her recent contributions?

Sarasin: It is a fitting tribute to Cathy’s character and passions that one of the most successful initiatives she brought to life was a program inviting families to eat together more often, enjoy food together more frequently and enjoy each other’s company more deeply. Like the person of integrity she was, this program brought many of her loves together – wellness, food and family – all at one table.

PG: The void in the aftermath of Cathy’s passing will undoubtedly be significant and long-lasting. What will she be remembered for most in the scheme of your organizational dynamic in the years ahead?

Sarasin: Cathy inspired a movement before she passed away. Food retailers, suppliers and their shoppers enjoyed one more family meal each week in the month of September thanks to the National Family Meals Month campaign driven by the FMI Foundation, of which Cathy was executive director. Cathy first donned an oven mitt in January this year at the Foundation gala and garnered momentum among the senior leaders of our industry to “raise their mitts” and commit to participate in the campaign. She had a unique ability to bring joy and humor to all situations, even to some of the darker moments she endured in recent months. I will always consider myself lucky to have had the good fortune to work alongside her, to learn about health and wellness from her, to observe in her true strength and grace in ways I've never seen it before, and to call her my friend. 

In the future, while Cathy will be missed greatly at her own family’s meals, I hope her family will take some degree of comfort in knowing the impact that Cathy’s enthusiasm had for bringing more people together around mealtime.

Cathy’s dedication, grace, spirit and infectious energy will live on through the FMI Foundation and her work with the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance. We plan to pay tribute to her legacy at the Foundation gala in January.


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