Irv & Cathy Bailey

| April 27, 2011
Irv & Cathy Bailey with then Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao at Cathy Bailey's swearing in as Ambassador to the Republic of Latvia.

Irv & Cathy Bailey with then Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao at Cathy Bailey's swearing in as Ambassador to the Republic of Latvia.

When Irv Bailey moved to Louisville from Hartford, Conn., in February of 1981, he never dreamed he’d stay this long. When Cathy waltzed into his office 13 years later, he knew he was there for the long haul.

Together, the Baileys have accomplished international and local acclaim, but their biggest accomplishment is their 16-year marriage, their blended family and a charity that has touched their hearts.

I sat down with them at their Glenview home to learn all about how Cathy and Irv became the Baileys.

How did you meet?

“You know, I don’t really remember,” said Cathy as she grinned and looked to Irv for backup.

The year was 1994, and Irv was serving as the chairman and CEO of Providian Corp. when Cathy, a young PR mogul, swooped in and the rest is history.

“She was working for a public relations company and came into my office to meet with us on a proposal that I can’t even remember what it was about anymore,” Irv said.

“I can’t remember if she wrote me or I called her, but …”

“We had Dim Sum at the Jade Palace,” Cathy interjected.

“That was our first date right around Derby season. Our relationship really began to materialize – there were a lot of parties and functions going on and Irv needed a date,” Cathy said.

How did he propose?

“I proposed to her in a restaurant overlooking a mill race in Quechee Vermont on her birthday – July 7, 1995,” Irv recalled.

“With my kids at the next table,” Cathy added.

“The kids were off looking at something, so I had a small window of opportunity to pop the question,” Irv said.

“Between the entree and dessert he snuck it in!” Cathy added.

Ben Strass, Irv Bailey and his son Chris Bailey.

Ben Strass, Irv Bailey and his son Chris Bailey.

How do you make it work on a day-to-day basis?

“We had each been married before and had our own families and I think in our situation, what works for us – which might not work for everyone else – but we have tremendous respect for each other,” Cathy began.

“I have incredible respect for Irv and his accomplishments, what he has done as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and respect that through it all he has never let me lose who I am. We’ve never tried to rob each other of our identities.

“We’ve been able to grow the marriage, and we have a strong marriage because of the base of a strong family and faith. We are very fortunate our families blended well and naturally. I think allowing us each to have our own independence, and respect each other for that independence is key. But we also know the times when we need to come together,” Cathy said.

“No matter where we are in the world, we always communicate,” Irv added.

The Bailey’s stay busy – really busy. Irv has served on both international and U.S. boards and recently got back from Europe.

Cathy, who is also on several boards and served as the U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Latvia from 2005 to 2008, knows the importance of balance and appreciates the communication efforts.

Irv & Cathy Bailey“We are never remiss,” Cathy said.

Tell me your organization, Operation Open Arms?

The passion Irv and Cathy have for life and each other transfers flawlessly over into their philanthropic efforts. As one of the co-founders of the Ronald McDonald House in Louisville as well as a former first grade teacher, Cathy is no stranger to a challenge.

Operation Open Arms is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing care for children while their mothers are in prison.

While in town visiting with the Baileys, Larry Thompson, deputy secretary of justice under John Ashcroft, presented Irv and Cathy with a troubling issue in the United States.

“It was so interesting how it all developed,” Cathy started.

“We had Larry in town for Derby, and had done all the festivities, so we came back to the house and just collapsed on our back patio. Larry said to us, ‘As I enter into this new position, we have a lot of problems. I’ll go into more detail, but to simplify it, which is not a simple problem, we have 100,000 kids in the U.S. who have a mom behind bars.’ ”

So together, Larry and the Baileys set out to address the situation and have been doing their best ever since to provide a loving, caring environment for the children of inmates.

“We just sat there and thought if we can put something together, so these children can understand what it’s like in a good home, maybe we can create a model for other organizations as well. Currently we have 12 families and 12 children. We have not yet seen a cycle, which has been our biggest challenge, but if we can help even just one child, we will consider it a success,” Cathy said.

“Irv is the treasurer and I’m the chairman as long as they’ll have me,” Cathy said with a laugh.

Irv & Cathy BaileyWhat is one thing you always do as a couple?

“We go get Starbucks on Sunday morning and sit and read the paper,” Irv said without skipping a beat.

“If you take the big picture and then narrow it down it would simply be our passion for life,”  Cathy said.

“There is a lot of energy between us and so much we want to do. We worked on our calendar just the other day and sat down and talked about what I have going on and what he has and within that planning period, we always carve out times that we are together and things we want to do, places we want to be – whether its riding our bikes or taking a walk.

“He is an extreme skier, and I like the ski resorts. So while he’s out skiing, I’m by the fire,” Cathy added.

“And we will meet up for lunch!” Irv said with a charming grin.

BaileysWhere do you like to go when you’re out ‘n’ about?

“Louisville is so blessed with many great options to choose from and this really shines during this time of year,” Cathy said. “There is nothing like seeing Kentucky during Derby time and what a great opportunity for us to all be ambassadors for this great town. We love trying new places, old places, we just love it here and love to have guests in town to show it off.”

What advice would you offer to couples new – or old – who desire to walk together through life in tandem?

“You continue to learn and relate to the person you love. One of the things we’ve learned is to be sensitive and in-tuned to each other’s needs. If not, you will make assumptions and get off track. Everyone needs to find their own way for their own relationships. I don’t know that there are any universal rules,” Irv said.

“Respect what the other person is about,” Cathy continued. “God put us here to be different. How dull would we be if we were all cookie cutters of each other? It’s about finding the best in that person.

“Irv and I are both products of former marriages, and we are not proponents of divorce; we are proponents of trying to work things out for various reasons that they didn’t.

“We’ve been married for 16 years, and there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t appreciate what he’s about and feel fortunate that I found someone who is not only a good match for me but a good role model for my children,” Cathy said.


Dec. 9, 1995.

Cats or Cards

Both. Cathy is originally from Indiana and her dad and brothers played basketball at Purdue. For her, it’s more about the love of the game.

“I mean if you want to watch exciting basketball, look no further,” Cathy said. “

“What we offer here in this state as far as sports is remarkable. And hats off to Jim Host and the amazing job he has done with the KFC Yum! Center and really putting us on the map.”


Silks in the Bluegrass, a Derby night celebration benefiting Operation Open Arms, will be held Saturday, May 7, at 7:30 p.m. at Crowne Plaza Louisville. The event will feature Grammy-winning duo Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr.

For information, visit or call 502.777.6300.

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Category: In Tandem

About the Author (Author Profile)

Lauren DePaso
Voice-Tribune Staff Writer Lauren DePaso enjoys being a tourist in her own city, exploring the nightlife and cheering on the Cards. A Louisville native, she currently resides in St. Matthews.

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