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Catherine French is Steeplechase Museum’s new executive director

Celebrating the past, focusing on the future

Posted: February 5, 2015 2:38 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Lindsay Jennings/

Catherine French is the new executive director for the National Steeplechase Museum

atherine French knows a thing or two about showcasing the Sport of Kings.

One of the most foremost photographers in steeplechasing, French has done just that, artfully capturing so many powerful and storied moments on and off the track, in paddock and barn, in the heat of competition and the afterglow of the battle.

Now as the executive director of the National Steeplechase Museum in Camden, French said she is looking forward to channeling her creative energies into not only presenting this proud and storied history but to make it even more interesting, exciting and accessible to the world.

"I’ve made my living in steeplechasing," she said. "I see this as a wonderful opportunity to give back."

The new role is one she has wanted to take on for some time, she said.

"It’s a great job," she said. "I’ve always wanted to do this job. It seemed like a natural step from photographing steeplechasing -- although I’m still going to do that -- but it seems like such a natural fit to take this on."

French at once acknowledges, respects and admires the prodigious accomplishments of those who have gone before her. She said Hope Cooper -- who left the job in December to take on the role of assistant director of the Carolina Cup Racing Association -- as well as dedicated board members, volunteers and many others over the years, have built a wonderful legacy for the museum.

French, who not only exhibited in the museum over the years but worked as Cooper’s assistant, said she is looking forward to learning even more about the business side of the job. Happily, an important mentor, Cooper, is still nearby, she said.

"The nice thing is, she’s right down the hall," French said.

Cooper, who has been involved with the museum since the idea was first being discussed, said she is very pleased to see French in the role.

"I’m so happy that Catherine is taking over the position, especially with her background in the steeplechase world," Cooper said. "She knows that world and the people in that world, which can only benefit the museum."

French said one important area of the non-profit world is fund raising. To that end, she is working on a number of ideas to not only increase membership to the museum but make it even more interactive within the community. French said membership has increased and people have been very generous with regard to donating to the museum. Part of her job is to not only maintain that high standard but to elevate it even more.

She said the museum is becoming an even more popular venue for wedding receptions, corporate events and other such affairs thanks to the addition of a spacious, window-filled room framing an expansive view of Springdale Race Course.

French also said she would also like to develop an education program emphasizing the impact of the equine industry in general and steeplechasing in particular to the community.

"I can’t give away all my secrets yet -- but I am excited about the future," she said with a wry smile.

One event French said she is very excited about is the upcoming Fashionable Fillies Luncheon, to be held Saturday, Feb. 28. The event features a luncheon, 11:30 a.m. silent auction and a fashion show courtesy of Lilly Pulitzer and Pink Sorbet and Britton’s. Chaired by Dee Myers, the event seems to have generated quite a buzz in the community, French said.

"I’ve had a lot of help from the ladies in town -- I think they’re excited about it," French said. "It’s going to be a good time. The timing is good -- people are tired of winter and are looking for something bright and cheerful, and all the fashions will be geared toward spring and the Cup."

Tickets to the Fashionable Fillies Luncheon are $75 per person and the deadline to respond is Saturday. February 14. For more information call Catherine French at 432-6513.

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