For many, Tuesday July 7th was just an ordinary day. Men and women went about their day, working and running errands for their ordinary lives. There was, however, a group of people who came together on this day to celebrate and honor the life of an extraordinary woman: Catherine Morretta. Catherine was the Director of Parks and Recreation for the City of Manassas Park, although in reality, she was so much more than that. She in many ways was a light, a beacon, a guiding star for the entire community. She touched so many lives and even though many people didn’t realize it was her loving, kind hands embracing them, they inevitably couldn’t help but feel her radiant warmth taking care of them. The Celebration began with the procession of her family members. One could instantly tell where Catherine inherited all of her love and strength. After a warm welcome from Manassas Park Mayor, Frank Jones, Father Juan Puigbo of All Saints Catholic Church delivered a prayer reminding all of us to continue to celebrate and cherish the blessings Catherine bestowed upon all of us. We sat down to lunch while we shared our favorite memories of Catherine. To me, food is very symbolic. Food literally overflowed from the kitchen into the banquet hall. It was clear that people wanted to show just how much Catherine meant to them and did so through the power of cooking and baking. When we prepare our favorite foods, a small part of us becomes a part of it – whether it’s our feelings, our intentions, or something else – and it transforms into a tangible expression of sharing our feelings and intentions.
Mayor Jones led us on his path for discovering the right words to truly define who Catherine was. It was his metaphor of the shepherd’s crook that had a resonating effect on all of us. A shepherd uses her crook to guide and protect us and even now we’re within the safe confines of Catherine’s crook. She continues to guide us through our trials, help us to make the right decisions, and encourages us to prioritize service. It was Jamie Baisden, owner of QMT windchimes with his wife Patty Baisden, who helped honor Catherine’s legacy. He shared with us the creation of Catherine’s Caring Hands Scholarship which will soon allow individuals who wish to take programs here at the Community Center the opportunity to participate regardless of ability to pay. Catherine’s commitment to service was a reoccurring theme throughout the memorial and the power of this wonderful scholarship is the perfect way to embody it. To echo that commitment, Jamie and Patty Baisden seeded the Scholarship with $10,000. A grateful and emotional standing ovation erupted from the crowd, further evidence of Catherine’s lasting legacy.
Tributes were shared from members of the community who were especially touched by Catherine. We heard about how Catherine shaped the community through taking on Santa’s Sleigh and SeaPerch and how every day she reached for the unreachable star from the following saddened but inspired attendees: Catherine’s father Sal Morretta; Dr. Bruce McDade, City of Manassas Park, School Superintendent; Eric Neff, City of Manassas Park, School Deputy Superintendent; Maggie Kain, Town of Vienna, Human Resources Director; Tracy Hannigan, Prince William County Parks and Recreation, Recreation Services Division Chief; Fran Kassinger, City of Manassas Park, Former Council Member; Donna Flory of the Flory Center; and Vanessa Watson, City of Manassas Park, Director of Zoning and Planning. Through their teary-eyed testimonies we could feel their love and admiration for Catherine. It was when Bethiah Shuemaker, City of Manassas Park Parks and Recreation, Recreation Specialist opened her heart and spoke that the crowd truly wept. She knew Catherine for 18 years and, dag burn, she was going to share every drop of her memories with us until she could no longer stand. You did us proud Ms. Shuemaker.
The Celebration came to a conclusion with a beautiful speech from her friend and colleague, Lynn Tadlock, Fairfax County Park Authority, former Director of Planning and Development, who led us in raising a glass and toasting the memory of Catherine. Let us hope we can follow in Catherine’s footsteps by leading by example, overflowing with love, and committing to service.