Who Was the Cathy of Cathy’s Closet?

Cathy Cairns
Cathy Cairns

Many of you knew Cathy Cairns. She was a long-time activist and social worker who tackled all sorts of challenges. She worked to bring affordable housing to the Hill District and Larimer. She brought support for women who experience domestic violence to the Beaver County District Attorny’s Office. She brought job training and social services to residents struggling to recover from the collapse of Pgh’s Industrial Sector.

Personal Care Closet Pittsburgh

This is the tribute and obituary written by her best friend and business partner, Shakura Sabur. If I could be remembered this way, I would consider myself to have lived a good life.

Cathy Ann Cairns, June 29, 1952 – January 21, 2014. A carefree spirit that felt no need to need gave her all to others. Her scope of service was effortless, tireless, selfless. Her geographic jurisdiction was boundaries as she served whomever had a need. If homeless, Cathy would befriend, feed and help find services, whether human or animal. Her breath and depth centered on empowering the voiceless, the powerless, the expendables and using her journalistic skills developed through her Communications degree form Edinboro State College and her persuasive abilities refined from her four years on the Edinboro Touring Debate Team to raise the political conscious of the powerful to reach back and give back. Cathy was staff writer for the Erie Times, the North East Breeze in North East PA, the Aliquippa News, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Beaver County Office. An unassuming yet fearless advocate for ‘doing the right thing,’ Cathy was creative, action oriented and dauntless in the face of barriers, obstacles and challenges. She put her heart and soul into service as Founding Director of the Victim Witness Program in the Beaver County District Attorney’s Office; Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Neighborhood Alliance; Chief Executive Officer of the Aliquippa Enterprises, Inc., a for profit subsidiary of the Aliquippa Alliance for Unity and Development where she was co-organizer and founding Executive Director; and raised funds from government and private sources to rebuild the financially-troubled Aliquippa Development Corporation as a non-profit subsidiary of the AAUD. Cathy’s authenticity stretched across color and culture lines. She was Administrator for the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh; Director of Development for the National Conference for Community and Justice, Pittsburgh office covering Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia; Director of Development for The GOAL Project, an international substance abuse non-profit with programs in the U.S., Belize and Kenya; Acculturation for Justice Access and Peace Outreach, helping immigrants and refugees from third world countries; and she was a volunteer and advocate for the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer community. Cathy was a violinist, a guitarist, a volunteer firefighter and an Emergency Medical Technician in Beaver County. Cathy passed over 20 certificates courses offered by FEMA in emergency management, community planning and specialized construction strategies and requirements for flood plains. She was a fearless person, intellectually and physically despite her short stature, she could bite your head off. Cathy’s 10 year consulting business, Cairns and Sabur Development Consultants, continued giving to distressed communities and nonprofit organizations with passion and purpose. When in her presence you feel a range of limitlessness and an unexplainable sense of ‘I can do this.’ Cathy asked for little in life but gave much to life. She touched lives and made a difference from Beaver and Allegheny Counties to Hawaii, to Ghana, to an adoptive family in China who she helped when desolated with a mud slide, to Monks in Tibet, to friends and associates in Ireland, London and France. Cathy is one of those souls that comes alone to elevate, illuminate and consecrate the highest in the human spirit.

If we successfully raise $5,000, we will keep Cathy’s spirit alive – her determination to help, her willingness to do what it takes and her recognition that dignity is always important. Cathy left behind only one distant relative, a cousin who lives in Massachusetts. Her friends from all walks of life are learning about Cathy’s Closet and responding with an enthusiastic “yes, this is something that honors her spirit and her life.” We hope you will join us in lifting up Cathy’s life as an example for us all by donating a few dollars to fund this project.

Cathy's Closet
Click to Donate to Cathy’s Closet via Crowdrise