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  • Writer's pictureRob Douglas

Catherine

I want to tell you the story of Catherine.  Catherine was a mother of two living in the suburbs in the mid to late 1950s.  She and her husband James married in April, 1945, just before the end of WWII.  In the beginning, they lived with family in New York City, and had kids, and eventually decided to move out to the suburbs – or really rural – Long Island, in Plainview.  They bought a house which really stretched their budget.

 

James worked for his father as an electrician.  Things seemed to be going along pretty well, as far as she knew.  But James was carrying a secret that was eating him up.  He had not been paid in weeks, and the mortgage was in default.  They were going to lose the house.  Catherine was angry, depressed, enraged, and everything you can think of, and James was ashamed and disappointed and…you get the picture.  James quit his job, and got three to replace it.  He worked from early morning until late at night, who knows how many hours.  He would leave before the kids were up, and work one, then another job, coming home in the evening briefly.  He would fall asleep in a chair, and Catherine changed his shirt and socks, and prepared a quick meal, and then sent him on his way for the evening shift.  It was grueling, but they managed to save the house and catch up.

Eventually Catherine grew tired and worried.  The kids were growing, and with the help of a neighbor, could be left on their own.  James couldn’t keep going, but they needed all that income to make the mortgage.  So Catherine decided that she was going to work.  She had some experience before marriage, but not much, and she was able to get a job at Photonews, a local print shop that supplied printing services for many local newspapers, periodicals, and newsletters.  James was able to back down to a reasonable schedule, and things were good.  They were now a new kind of couple, a dual-income family, which was not at all common at the time. 

 

In 1963, Catherine found she was pregnant with a third child.  Her excitement was tempered with her real fear – that she would not be able to keep working with a new baby.  The financial impact would be a huge hit to them.  They were making things work on two incomes.  And then, she was called into to meet with her supervisor after work one day.  She knew that they were going to let her go. She couldn’t stay on, and she fully expected to be fired that evening.  What would they do?

 

Her supervisor let her know that he had seen how she worked, her skill at editing, the way she worked with others, took initiative, and never let anything go wrong if she could fix it.  The company was growing, with more and more clients, and the night shift supervisor decided to leave and stay home to take care of her family.  There was a need for a new night shift supervisor, and he was offering it to Catherine! 

 

Catherine was so excited, she jumped at the chance.  With James working days, Catherine on nights, and tremendous help from the older children, they were able to keep working, maintain their incomes, survive and thrive in this new world they created. 

 

Catherine continued to work hard and excel and gain the respect and admiration of her co-workers.  She rose through the ranks and became president of the company, and co-owner.  She was a natural leader and businesswoman, with a talent for understanding her company’s business, and that of her clients.  She would lead them through tough times and economic booms, through client losses and gains, and the evolution of the print industry. 

 

Catherine didn’t set out to break any molds, or make any statements on feminism or women’s rights.  She wasn’t making a political statement, or trying to be the first…anything.  Through happenstance and circumstance, she found herself able to contribute to her family, her business, and her community by being her true and complete self.  And she wasn’t alone in making it happen.  Her husband James fully supported her success.  He worked for decades at the Grumman Corporation, and helped build the Lunar Rover, but he was proud of Catherine’s accomplishments and abilities, and never let anyone forget she was the boss.  When they went out to dinner, the server would bring him the check, and he would wave them off, and send them down to the other end of the table.  She took care of the finances.  She paid the bills.  There was no battle of egos.  They worked together and achieved their dreams.

 

Catherine and James retired in 1982 and moved to Florida.  They retired from work, but Catherine wasn’t done, and continued to serve in her local church, volunteering or being volunteered to lead several ministries.  After James passed away in 1995, she went on to become the President of the St. Vincent de Paul, Council of Catholic Women.  She never wanted to stop organizing and leading and helping others.  She was an inspiration to me, and I am proud to call her Grandma. 

 

On this, the 2024 International Women’s Day, I wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of Catherine Kearns, and say thank you for all she taught me about working hard, doing your best, making the most of your opportunities, and being there for others.  Thank you, Grandma.


Rob Douglas

March 8, 2024

 

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