Sunday, December 4, 2022

Kate Root: a banker with spirits

Kate Root (right)

Kate Root, senior vice president and managing director of Chesapeake Bank’s Payment Systems, is haunted — haunted by a pint-sized ghost that has walked the hallways of her 1790’s house, and haunted by the care gap that leaves young adults with critical illnesses without an emotional safety net.

But what really robs Root of sound sleep is mulling all the ways that hackers and other techno-crooks can rip off Chesapeake Bank clients, area merchants that pay the bank to process transactions and keep their electronic payment systems running smoothly and safely. Part of Root’s job is to mitigate business loss when payment terminals go down.

“We physically visit all our merchants, and if terminals break down, we’ll switch them out personally,” Root says.

“Personally” means grabbing a terminal from the stock room, driving to the merchant, and installing the equipment — no matter what time of day or what day of the week.

“Making sure a merchant doesn’t lose transactions is way better than if they had to wait 24 hours for a replacement to arrive in the mail,” Root says. “We have lots of stories of saving merchants in the 11th hour.”

Where it began

Root, 58, has spent her entire banking career trying to keep clients’ electronic transactions profitable, safe and secure. She started at 24 as a divorced mother who wanted a career “that was stable and good to women,” she says.

Root began her career at a Naples, Fla. bank, keying customers in and out of their safe deposit boxes. A year later, she was tapped for a new venture — selling credit card machines directly to merchants, which launched her career in the payments area of banking.

The Root family’s former haunted home in Pennsylvania

Eventually, Root left Florida and, with a new husband, her daughter and son moved into the 18th-century farmhouse in Coatesville, Pa. about 40 miles west of Philadelphia. Before long, the family realized they were not alone.

Root’s 5-year-old son would hear a young voice call, “Billy, come play with me” – although no one was there. One night, Billy was trying to fall asleep when he looked into a bedroom mirror and saw a little boy dressed in Civil War garb, walking down the hall.

You’d think living in a haunted house would be the scariest thing that Root and her family had to deal with: You’d be wrong.

Beating the odds

When Root’s daughter, Bethany, was 24, she was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer and given just ten days to live. Emergency brain surgery removed the egg-sized tumor, and radiation and chemotherapy followed.

Bethany beat the odds — her cancer has a 1% survival rate at five years — and is celebrating ten years cancer free.

But Bethany’s illness still haunts Root, not only because she almost lost her daughter, but because at 24, Bethany had aged out of all the emotional and family support afforded to children with critical illnesses. Twenty-four is pretty young to be making life and death decisions about cancer care. And Root had to run a gauntlet of permission and privacy rules and regulations to gain access to medical information and help her young adult daughter make critical decisions.

“It’s very frustrating and complicated,” Root says.

Since her daughter’s recovery, Root has searched for an organization she can work with to bridge the gap in young adult support. She selected St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“I think it’s a good fit,” Root says. “You never feel you can give back enough.”

Embrace every day

One of Root’s take-home lessons from her family crisis is: Embrace every day.

“One of the biggest things I try to accomplish here at Chesapeake Bank is to help people be happy in their careers every day they come to work,” she says. “Here, we listen to every level of employee. Work/life balance is important to us.”

A few years ago, Root and her husband moved to Seaford, Va. in York County. They live in a house on a canal that links to the York River, which spills into the Chesapeake Bay.

Root loves to sit outside, look and listen to the water, and watch bald eagles glide through the sky. Eagles, Root believes, are spirit animals that guide and protect her.

“I find eagles tranquil and majestic. And it seems every time I need to make a decision, or something is bothering me, one flies by. They show up when I’m in doubt and help confirm I’ve made the right decision.”


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