From the Italian word “seguire,” it means to make a transition without pause or interruption.
Kathleen Soldati, 68, a storied business leader, promotions and communications expert, event manager, even disc jockey, has given a good deal of thought to this word of late. It wasn’t long ago she talked to one of her sisters and her daughter about its meaning, given her many vocations, roles and, most recently, personal challenges.
She’s settled on her sister’s broader definition, that “segue” is not just about the moment one scene shifts to another, it’s about what you leave behind from one life experience and what you take to the next.
“I do have a strong sense of having a calling,” she says, adding that she has been guided numerous times by an internal voice, which tells her it’s time to change.
She recalls this happening when, after 12 years of working at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen, six of those years directing the nonprofit organization, it became time to move on.
“I went home, cried for a week, and then turned in my notice,” she says. “If I have anything I want to do, I do it. I have a lot of fears. But I also have the willingness to face those fears.”
This “voice,” she describes, is powerful for her, sometimes leading to the unexpected, sometimes to the more obvious. She finds it even helps with simpler navigations.
“Oh, I should turn left here,” she laughs, thinking about how it can influence her driving.
Soldati, keynote speaker for The Keene Sentinel’s Extraordinary Women event on Aug. 29, was born Kathleen Barlow to devout Roman Catholic parents, who had nine boys and five girls. Her parents, Daniel and Teresa, now both deceased, were community and religious activists — “walk-the-walk people,” she says.
She grew up in Schenectady, N.Y., and Akron, Ohio, before enrolling at St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She settled on political science for a degree and, after graduation in 1972, went to work for 1st MidAmerica, Inc., a brokerage operation in bustling Chicago, in 1973.
While at St. Mary’s, she met a young man from New Hampshire, Lincoln Soldati, with whom she fell in love and would eventually marry. Missing him while in Chicago, she returned to South Bend, and took a job with the Rand Corporation.
The couple returned to Lincoln’s home state, where he enrolled in the second class of the Franklin Pierce Law School in 1975. Soldati went to work at United Life and Accident Insurance Company in Concord, where she handled corporate communications from 1975-79. The couple settled in Somersworth, where Lincoln practiced law.
Kathleen started, put aside and rekindled her own communications company, Soldati Public Relations, three times between 1978 and 2015 — from 1978-81; from 2002-06; and from 2013-15. This business was always there for her, a segue of its own. Sometimes this work coincided with other jobs, sometimes not, but it was always an operation to reignite through her scores of connections and a track record of successful communications and promotional campaigns. These efforts included getting one of her clients, an illusionist, on The David Letterman Show.
“I think having one’s own business means that you have to really clarify what you bring to the table, what services you can offer,” she says. “It’s a different way of thinking of one’s career — different from thinking of finding a job that you can fit into.”
In 1978, Soldati went to work at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen as shop publicity manager, and she steadily advanced, first to promotions manager, then to assistant director, then to acting director and finally to executive director in 1985. Her skills at promotion attracted coverage for the League from The New York Times, Long Island Newsday, Boston Globe and Self magazine.
The League razed and built a new flagship store in North Conway during her tenure, and she stewarded the annual fair, which drew 50,000 arts and crafts lovers to Mount Sunapee State Park.
It was during this time, the voice told her it was time to direct her energies in new ways.
“It has served me well,” she says of her inner sense. While perhaps mysterious, it’s simply a part of her, which she knows not to ignore. She’s not religious, she says, “But I am spiritual.”
Kathleen spent time at NH Public Television (now NHPBS) as a national underwriting associate and then at Fox Pavlika & Partners, a direct marketing company in New York City, as manager of new business development.
This work led to her co-founding the public relations company, Triple Dot Productions, in Portsmouth. Soldati and a business partner landed a bevy of clients, including the Turner Foundation, which underwrote a youth summit in Tanzania for famed primatologist Jane Goodall. An event tied to that summit took place at the illustrious Manhattan Explorers Club, whose membership boasts the first person to the North Pole (Robert Peary), first to the South Pole (Roald Amundsen), first to summit Mount Everest (Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay) and first (and second) to the moon’s surface (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin).
Triple Dot produced an even bigger gathering, this one for South African President Nelson Mandela; his wife, Graca Machel; and former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young, at a state dinner in Johannesburg. Her clients at the time, the Dunfey family, famous for its hotel chain, liberal politics and philanthropy, founded the Global Citizens Circle, a regular gathering of diverse thinkers who pondered big ideas on social issues. The Dunfeys wanted to present The Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle to Machel, famous for shunning attention despite a lengthy record of accomplishment on behalf of women and children in Africa.
As part of the effort to present the award, Soldati arranged an interview with Machel for Sally Quinn, columnist for The Washington Post and wife of the Post’s late-Editor Ben Bradlee.
“The New York Times and Washington Post had been trying for three years to get that interview,” she recalls. It was a “high concept” moment, she says of nailing the meeting for Quinn, referring to the Hollywood term that means a minimum of words leading to a successful pitch.
In understatement, she says the event “was quite something.”
Triple Dot arranged Global Citizens Circle events for David Trimble, first minister of Northern Ireland; Seamus Mallon, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland; Bernice Johnson Reagon, an African-American social activist; Robert Reich, former secretary of labor; and Henry Hampton, an American filmmaker, with these gatherings held in Boston at the Omni Parker House (a former Dunfey property), JFK Library and Boston University Club.
She became director of marketing for The Music Hall in Portsmouth in 2006, a role she held for eight years. Then, it was on to an executive directorship of the Portsmouth Historical Society, which she left last year after several accomplishments, including initiating, in conjunction with the city, Portsmouth400, which is planning the city’s 400th anniversary in 2023.
Guiding her career have been other influences besides sagacity. She wrote about some of this in her book Business Comes to the Expert, authored with Brenda Richards.
“It’s about how do you put your knowledge into the marketplace, so people are driven to you,” she says. “You need to figure out what your book of knowledge is. What do you have? What do you know? How do you put that out there?”
She and Richards wrote in a 2008 article in the online publication Design Intelligence how this can work.
“We recently heard the following advice from a young person on how to market to his demographic: ‘We don’t want you to come to us. We want you to give us a reason to find you.’
“That comment is the essence of the adage ‘Business comes to the expert.’ Your audience needs to be aware of your knowledge and expertise. If they are to seek you out, they need to perceive your knowledge and expertise as beneficial to them,” they wrote.
The book and theory have resulted in numerous speaking, teaching and facilitating engagements. She and a son are co-hosting TEDxPortsmouth’s annual event, entitled “Point of No Return,” on Sept. 13, at The Music Hall. She has taught dozens of classes and given lectures and presentations, including to the Arts Reach Us Conference in New York, Boston Architectural College, University of New Hampshire, UNH’s Division of Continuing Education, Women in Design/Build-Boston, Women’s Business Center of Portsmouth, Boston Society of Architects, a USAID conference in Estonia and New England College.
She has emceed or participated in the Greater Portsmouth Chamber of Commerce Tourism Summit for several years running, the New Hampshire Governor’s Conference on Tourism in 2013, Boston Society of Architects Residential Design Show in 2005 and 2006, the Women in Design Annual Conference in 2005, even the Joe Stevens Rock ‘n Roll Photography show at The Music Hall’s Portsmouth Singer Songwriter Festival.
Possessing a soothing, infectious voice, she does work for radio and TV, was a disc jockey at WUNH-Durham for three stints between 1981 and 2018, and was a singer at the downtown Hilton in Portsmouth, the Cliff House in Ogunquit, Maine, and at Biddy Mulligans in Dover.
In 1998, she was the keynote for My Brother Michael — a candlelight memorial response to AIDS — and then in 2004, she spoke at Turning Remembrance into Action — a similar candlelight gathering. Both of those events drew on the loss of a brother to AIDS.
Soldati’s personal affiliations and awards fill a half page, including the Portsmouth Chamber’s 2015 Connector of the Year.
An active Democrat, she helped run her husband’s successful mayoral campaign in Somersworth in 2009 after his nine elections as Strafford County attorney. She and Lincoln have hosted scores of events for various Democrats, ranging from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen to presidential candidates Walter Mondale, Joe Biden, Tom Harkin and Bill Bradley, for whom she was state co-chair.
She counts as her mentors Richard Fitzgerald, who preceded her as executive director of the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. When mistakes were made and difficult discussions needed to occur, Fitzgerald had an effective way of disarming the matter and achieving buy-in on solutions, she says.
“One of the biggest things about Richard was he had a saying, ‘I bet that was my fault,’ ” she recalls, admiring his willingness to shoulder blame, even when it wasn’t his to shoulder. “I absorbed it. He believed in me.
“I think the number one thing I do for others, I believe in them,” she says. “I might modify that to, I love them.”
These days, a few months removed from the historical society, Soldati has few regrets.
“I wouldn’t have done anything differently,” she says, after pondering the question. “I don’t have anything on my bucket list.”
Even the house fire that destroyed her and Lincoln’s Somersworth home in 2010 has not left qualms. They have four successful adult children and three grandchildren. She was to visit Edinburgh, Scotland, in the middle of August to see her daughter, Gemma, a comic performer, take part in a show. Two sons live on the West Coast — Pacifico, who is pursuing a law degree at the University of California, Irvine; and Michael, a rigger working in Hollywood on set design. The couple’s third son Emmett, her co-host at TEDx, owns Teatotaller, a tea and espresso bar in Somersworth.
Lincoln and Kathleen are living in the caretakers’ apartment of the Langdon Mansion in downtown Portsmouth, part of the city’s historic district and a national historical landmark. They keep an eye on the property while enjoying the gardens.
“It’s like living in paradise,” she says.
But these are times of yet another segue, one of personal challenge for the couple.
Lincoln, 70, who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2018, started to feel poorly last November. Numerous tests finally revealed stage four prostate cancer that had metastasized to his skull. A community fundraiser, started by a California friend, is underway.
“My biggest fear is right in front of me,” Soldati says. “Losing my husband.”
She has always been able to conquer her fears, drawing in part upon an early lesson. When she was a child, she tried to pass a swimming test, nearly drowning and needing emergency help. For years, she was petrified of the water. She overcame it with a college friend while the two were staying at a hotel in the South.
“I got up every morning, jumped into the pool and swam to the end, got out, jumped back in and worked through that fear,” she recalls.
Now, she is confronted with her husband’s illness and the worrisome prognosis. The rigors of the appointments, the uncertainties and anxieties of the disease, the exhaustion of chemotherapy, are all framed by the impossible question of how much more time. For his part, Lincoln tells her 10 years, she says. For her part, she naturally worries it will be less.
“That makes everything so much more precious to me,” she says.
This article has been changed to make the following corrections: Due to a reporting error, author Dan Brown was listed as a client for Kathleen Soldati’s public relations company. He was not. Rather, media coverage of an appearance by Brown at The Music Hall in Portsmouth was arranged by Soldati, which resulted in coverage on The Today Show, she said. Also, Soldati has three grandchildren, not five, and her son Michael's name was misreported.