Catherine O’Neale, 1949—2012
From Real Change, July 18, 2012
A powerful voice and a caring, thoughtful friend
It is with great sadness in my heart that I write about the death of Catherine O’Neale, who was a Real Change vendor.
Catherine sold Real Change for six years, most recently at the Bartell Drugs at Fifth Street and Olive Way.
I was lucky enough to have the privilege of forming and cultivating a relationship with Catherine. I will always be profoundly affected by our friendship. Whenever I think about my time here at Real Change, Catherine is first person who comes to my mind.
Catherine was always concerned for the well-being of others, and when she spoke to you she always made you feel like you were the only person in the world.
She was a great listener, and she went beyond pleasantries. Though reluctant to talk too much about herself, Catherine always asked about details of my life, and she remembered them.
Catherine was a member of the Homeless Speakers’ Bureau here at Real Change, a role that had her going out to other agencies, schools and organizations to talk about her experience of being homeless. Catherine used her story to help people understand the importance of sharing one’s story and educating others about the tragedy of chronic homelessness.
Anitra Freeman, who served with her on the speakers’ bureau, remembers that she was exceptionally blunt, but also fair, and she didn’t lose her cool.
“I have never seen anybody kick butt more calmly” than Catherine, Freeman said.
Catherine was politically active, and she organized a boycott of Exxon after the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. For a time she worked for the Metropolitan Improvement District as one of the yellow-jacketed workers who patrol the city’s streets.
What I remember most about Catherine is her willingness to embrace everybody. Every time Catherine came into the office she lit up the room with her contagious, joyful enthusiasm. I remember watching Catherine walk through the Real Change doors and talking to her for who knows how long. I cherished every minute I spent interacting with Catherine. She just had the kind of personality that people gravitate toward.
With each hug and smile she gave me when she came into the office she demonstrated how much Real Change meant to her.
When I heard the news about Catherine’s death it caught me completely off guard. I knew she was sick, but for some reason I did not expect this to happen. The pain of losing Catherine, someone I cared for and who brought joy to my life, is for me like the pain of losing a family member.
I don’t think that anyone can ever fully realize the effect they have on another person’s life, but I know that Catherine has left an indelible mark on my life and on the lives of those who were lucky enough to have known her.
“Memory,” of an inspiring and heavenly harmony
We were all saddened to learn of the passing of Catherine O’Neale, who sold Real Change for the last six years. Recently, Catherine was also a member of the Real Change Editorial Committee, a group of people who give feedback on the newspaper to the editorial staff. We all loved Catherine so much and miss her, and we will always remember her.
Catherine’s kindness brought joy to my life, especially when, several years ago, I was homeless and depressed.
As long as I was homeless, I felt hopeless. I thought I would never escape the despair. But Catherine had found the joy and happiness in her life while she was homeless, and her upbeat attitude was infectious.
To me, Catherine’s singing voice was inspiring and had a powerful influence in my life. On Thanksgiving Day 2006, she and I were staying at Hammond House, and someone brought a karaoke machine in. I had little confidence in my ability to sing. But someone heard us both sing the song “Memory” from the Broadway musical Cats and suggested that we sing together.
In a most miraculous three minutes, my untried and untrained voice was raised to new heights in harmony with the heavenly ascent of Catherine’s voice.
The experience proved that I was not only a poet and a songwriter but someone who could actually sing and deliver the songs I wrote.
The song and her voice will always be an inspiration to me. In the musical Cats, “Memory” is the mournful plea of the wizened old cat Grizabella, who yearned to be the one chosen to ascend to heaven.
Now Catherine and her voice have ascended to be with Grizabella and to sing with the angels. I’m so sorry that I never had a chance to sing with her again, for her to sing me another “Memory.”
Catherine’s Leaf is located at Real Change.
Featured Leaf July 2013
Catherine and I bonded over our shared Irishness; when I told her that I was only a little bit Irish she said “that’s OK, you have an Irish soul”. The bond was cemented when we learned that we both cry when we see wild animals dying as a result of global warming or other human destrictiveness. She had a lovely laugh (must’ve been the Irish in her). Catherine, when you’re done organizing the angels and telling heaven what improvements they need to make to the system, I hope you rest in joy & peace with a glass of Irish “soul” 😉