Today in My History
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Cast (updated 7/16)
WOMAN OF THE YEAR
8 April 2021
Cathy Speck died this week. Musician Kate Laddish published this letter, which she wrote to Congressman John Garamundi, nominating Cathy as 2019 Woman of the Year in California (an award she later won).
I wanted to share it here:
Dear Congressman Garamendi,
Some people are born activists, individuals who see an injustice and set out to improve the situation. Others have a knack for bringing people together and building community. Some people’s forte is artistic expression; some are natural athletes.
And then there is Davis resident Cathy Speck, who is all of these—while also living with not one but two terminal, rare, and debilitating diseases.
When Cathy shares family photos from her childhood, she sometimes mentions that her mom would cajole her into wearing a dress by letting her pair it with a nice tie, or says something along the lines of, “I'm the one with her arms folded mannishly.”
Suffice to say that Cathy has had more than a front-row seat to injustices experienced by people who are in the LGBT community—she's experienced them herself.
And, being a born activist, she set out to improve the situation. Before marriage equality was law, Cathy pointed out to decision-makers that when she dies, her wife, Linda Duval, would not be able to inherent Cathy’s Social Security benefits as Cathy’s surviving spouse since the federal government didn't recognize their marriage.
Not IF she dies first; WHEN she dies first.
The other thing Cathy notes when she shares those family photos is who all in them has died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease, starting with her beloved mother who passed when Cathy was just 13. She's lost four close relatives to a rare, genetic form of this rare, degenerative, neurological disease, and she was diagnosed in 2009 just months after one of her brothers died.
Born activist that she is, “Get ALS OUT of the closet” become Cathy’s new rallying cry. With redoubled purpose and no small sense of urgency—most people with ALS live two to five years after diagnosis—she has thrown herself into advocating for support for research for a cure, and supporting and advocating for people with ALS and for their families.
Cathy, Linda, and ALS Association Greater Sacramento Chapter (ALSSAC) executive director Amy Sugimoto addressed Congress about research funding in 2010. Cathy and the SPECKtaculars team participate in the ALS walkathon every year, and Cathy uses the occasion to raise both funds and awareness. Cathy delivered a TEDx talk in 2014, speaks with students at Emerson Middle School in Davis every year, and talks about “dying as living” at Sacramento City College. She uses her position as columnist at the iPinion Syndicate to raise ALS awareness and support, and to do so with heart and humor. In 2011, she was honored as one of four National ALS Heroes at the National ALS Association Summit.
Cathy and Linda, who have performed together as regionally acclaimed duo Duval Speck since 1993, had a song included in the ALS documentary “Better Days” by Nadine El Khoury. After the filmmaker approached them about using the song and learned how ALS impacts Cathy and her family, Cathy then also helped get the years-long project completed.
Cathy was inspired to start taking “phonetographs”—photos taken with her cell phone and then edited and processed into vivid pieces of art—in 2014 when she was in the hospital recovering from major surgery related to stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer. She says she looked out the window and had to start sharing the beauty of the world. The former star athlete pedals around Davis on her tricked-out trike finding new views. She now sells the art in fundraisers and at art shows.
When she's not doing advocacy or art, Cathy builds community. For many years, she has organized a Christmas-caroling excursion to Courtyard Healthcare in Davis, fostering friendships amongst participants and bringing smiles to the long-term patients who delight in Cathy's blinged-out walker and “dog-monkey-princess” Mazie as much as the music.
Cathy is a booster of the Dorothy Speck Memorial Basketball Tournament, held at Davis High every year since 1973 and named for her mother. The Speck Tournament is the oldest continuously presented girls basketball tournament west of the Mississippi.
In a 2012 iPinion column, Cathy wrote, “No, not rest yet—that’ll come later. I like to help, I want to help, I will help, and usually my first goal is ALS related. Yes, I do grieve the losses around and in me, but I decide to live, and love, and to spread joy in often the least likely places.”
It is my honor to nominate Cathy Speck as a 2019 Woman of the Year of the 3rd Congressional District of California.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
Cathy Speck, 1959 - 2021
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This is entry #7685