Catherine Mary Munro of Vineyard Haven died on Jan. 30 at Martha's Vineyard Hospital, of pneumonia. "Cay" was born to deaf parents, Walter and Mary Poshusta, in Mason City, Iowa, on June 15, 1920. As a sickly child, much of Cay's early years were spent in bed, her family unsure if she would survive. She gained both health and strength, along with some good stories, by working summers on the family farm in Austin, Minn. Even though all photographic evidence from those times show wonderful family gatherings, complete with homemade ice cream and fresh-picked strawberries, Cay would assure you that the labor was long and backbreaking, especially if she wanted you to make your bed or finish the dishes.
She earned her Bachelor's degree in history, with a minor in classics, at Saint Theresa's College for women in Winona, Minn. It was there that she met Chicagoan Raymond Munro, then attending a nearby men's college, while they were working on a dance committee that would bring the two schools together. It certainly brought the planners together as that began a 44-year relationship that included a happy and devoted marriage, six children, and only ended with Raymond's death in 1990. This, however, did not end Cay's devotion.
After college, and with Ray serving overseas in WW II, Cay went to teach deaf Native American children in Arizona. Her experience at the reservation school became a chapter of great happiness and productivity, and led to an enduring longing and love for the southwest. She then went to Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., where she received her Master's degree in deaf education. After the war, the children came and using the fruits of her education had to be put on hold for a while. Cay had six children, four of them mentally retarded. Life with the children, her father, her mother-in-law, two dogs and a cat, all in a two-and-a-half bedroom house, was stressful, sometimes ridiculous, but Cay always made it loving and somehow fun. Even with all her responsibilities at home, Cay somehow managed to volunteer at her church, the children's schools, and have an open house for any deaf friends that would be passing through the area. All the children learned American Sign Language; first just to keep up with Mom and Grandpa, but later it became the family's secret language that could be used in public to discuss private matters. Things that other people would have to whisper, the Munro family could say across great distances in a crowded room.
Once the children were grown, Cay was able to start her 20-year career as a counselor for the deaf, working for the Illinois Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. There she touched the lives of hundreds of deaf people. Cay was an aggressive advocate for "total communication," that is, teaching a hearing impaired client to use lip-reading as well a signing for better and more complete understanding in the "hearing" world. This was a controversial approach for years, and Cay volunteered many hours of public speaking (and signing, of course) to educate people about this now universally accepted method. She always encouraged her clients to "shoot for the moon," and her list of success stories included physicians, lawyers, college professors, teachers, surgeons, and even an academy award-winning actress, Marlee Matlin.
She was also, with her husband, a tireless campaigner for the rights of the mentally retarded, challenging the state of Illinois's treatment of the retarded and succeeding in bettering that treatment.
In 1998, some years after her husband passed away, Cay moved to the Island she was so fond of visiting to be closer to her son, Raymond, and his wife, Virginia. She brought her friendly smile, her warmth, and humor, and so made many friends here in her last decade.
She also brought her teaching skills; Cay taught an ongoing ASL class for nearly nine years for the Tisbury Senior Center until just a few months before her death. Along with senior citizens, Cay taught many children in the Island home school community, and took great pride in the acuity and quick progress of her young students.
The warmth and generosity of her neighbors, the Tisbury Senior Center's staff, Stuart Kendall, the supportive day program and visiting nurses, and finally, the doctors, nurses and staff of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, will always be remembered with fondness and gratitude by her remaining friends and family.
Cay also performed a service to American pop culture by keeping catch phrases from the 1970s in circulation: "Right on!" "I hear you!" and "Whatever turns you on!" being some of her favorites. Since Cay was a devout Catholic and a Goldwater Republican, her loved ones wondered if she fully grasped all the implications of that last phrase.
In the end, her favorite phrases were reduced to one, "Halleluiah!" This would be her response to most things pleasant - seeing you again, a cup of tea, Oprah. But in the end, it would be perfect for the last word for Cay. In the end, it is the perfect word to resonate in the souls of those who knew and loved her.
Cay was predeceased by her husband, Raymond, and her children Thomas, Mary, and Richard. She is survived by her son Raymond, and daughter-in-law Virginia, of Edgartown, son Patrick of Momence, Ill., daughter Nanette of Evanston, Ill., and granddaughter, Heather Pranitis, of Phoenix, Ariz., "adopted" daughter Meredith Dillon, of Vineyard Haven and "adopted" granddaughters Lucia and Augusta Dillon, of Vineyard Haven and Chilmark.
A funeral mass will be celebrated for Catherine Munro this Saturday, March 15, at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Oak Bluffs, at 11 am. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Island Council on Aging's Supportive Day Program, P.O. Box 1729, Vineyard Haven, MA 02568.