Losing a patriot, and carrying on

In the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, we call each other “patriot” — partly to lend a little sarcastic humor to the weightiness of gun violence prevention work, and partly because we are — in fact — patriots. To protect Texas communities and families, we testify, we educate, we write letters, we make phone calls and we visit lawmakers and community stakeholders. We show up and fight the good fight. No matter what.

We lost one of our patriots this week. Catherine Nance, a math instructor at Lone Star College in Tomball and a wife and mother of two children ages 3 and 5, lost her battle with colon cancer at age 40.

Cathy came into my life in 2014 through a Moms Demand Action friend in the Spring/Cypress area. An open-carry group had planned a march with loaded long guns to “normalize” the behavior. Cathy, then pregnant with her second child, jumped in, meeting with local law enforcement. Soon, Cathy and I were huddled together, combing through a website naming thousands of Texas businesses that had posted signs to prohibit guns in their stores. The website made note of businesses with signage that didn’t follow the letter of the law, so that gun extremists would know they could technically go to those places armed. We realized that a subset of Texans was gaming well-meaning business owners and we slogged away at the issue until Texas lawmakers, business associations and media understood what was going on. We helped the businesses that didn’t want guns on their premises come into compliance with a burdensome Texas law.

We were two random women who felt strongly enough about an unjust law that we were willing to fight day and night to correct it. Together, we became patriots.

It was just a few months later when Cathy learned that she had cancer. At the time, she was mom to a newborn and a toddler. She was incensed and terrified, but it was then that she earned her reputation as Catherine the Great.

That year, Cathy wrote a TribTalk piece decrying the dangers of guns on campuses — and the fact that to ready themselves for guns on campus, colleges were moving funds away from cancer research. Cathy became our forever mascot when she shouted down a gun-rights extremist who challenged her during a House Homeland Security & Public Safety committee hearing. I had driven her to the Capitol from Houston that day. She was mastering the use of her new colostomy bag.

Texas Moms Demand Action volunteers —and volunteers around the country — loved Cathy for her spunk and her bravery. She more than earned her title of “patriot.” Volunteers repeatedly donated to help her family with childcare and meals while Cathy was in chemo. When her family’s home flooded during Hurricane Harvey, Moms Demand Action volunteers banded together, mucked out her house and arranged for a contractor to do work quickly and cheaply for her stressed-out family. We all visited Cathy on the second floor of her house, where she lay and endured end-stage cancer and real-time home renovations. That’s what patriots do for each other.

As Cathy fought her cancer, she continued to fight the gun lobby — right up to the bitter end. She helped us notify businesses when open carry passed so they could post compliant signage. She canvased for one of our volunteers who recently ran for (and won!) a city council seat near Houston. And just a few weeks ago, she was online, encouraging friends to call federal lawmakers to oppose rolling back gun silencer safety laws.

In addition to calling each other “patriot,” Texas Moms Demand Action volunteers tell each other to “carry on.” From the passage of open carry to the armed men who often turn up to threaten us and the fight to stop permit-less carry that will surely come up in the Legislature — again — next year, we carry on. We figure out what we can do, and we move forward.

So that’s what we’ll do now. We’ll honor Cathy with action — just the way she’d want us to. We will carry on and continue to fight weak gun laws with all the trademark passion and persistence we’ve exhibited in the past.

But right now, let’s stop for a moment — and honor a Texas patriot.

Norri Leder

Volunteer, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America