In Honor of An Unsung American Hero

Shannon Watts

An American hero died yesterday. You won’t see any coverage of her death on CNN or in the New York Times. Her name won’t trend on Twitter. But the world is a little less bright today because Catherine Nance — a 40-year-old teacher, wife, mother and gun safety advocate — died from colon cancer last night at her home in Houston.

I first met Catherine in 2015. She had just joined Moms Demand Action because — as a math instructor at a Houston community college — she was infuriated by the introduction of gun laws that would force guns onto Texas college campuses.

Catherine was bright, considerate, inspiring, funny, and had the loudest laugh you’ve ever heard. She was also full of ideas about how to take on the gun lobby. When she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer just months after she joined us, volunteers across the country who knew her were devastated.

But even after her diagnosis, Catherine never slowed down. In fact, she said knowing she had a terminal illness made her feel like she needed to work even harder to make her kids’ future safer — a future she knew she likely wouldn’t see.

Catherine endured surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, but she still managed to attend lobby days at the statehouse in Austin, meet with state representatives and her members of Congress, host events to teach Texans about responsible gun storage, and — in her spare time — dial Texas businesses and encourage them to put up signage to prohibit the open carry of firearms.

Just a few months ago, Catherine canvassed and knocked on doors for a fellow Moms Demand Action volunteer who ran for (and won) a Houston-area city council seat.

Soon after, Catherine sent me a note out of the blue. She wrote, “Years ago, Moms Demand Action took my heart fire and gave it measurable, achievable goals. They teach us in pedagogy that that’s how you scaffold success. Volunteering has given me so much pride and self-actualization. And I’ve made pacts with all my friends that they will continue making the world better through gun violence prevention after I’m gone.”

As Catherine’s health was declining, the Houston hurricane hit and flooded her home. The Moms Demand Action network sprung into action. Volunteers from Texas and across the country showed up to knock out rotted drywall, and raised thousands of dollars to make emergency repairs Catherine’s home. A few weeks later, she wrote on Facebook: “I have felt such love. How is it possible that I have met so many enduringly good people, and especially strong women? My heart is happy tonight because it is absolutely full. Who gets lucky like this?”

During Catherine’s last day on earth, she was surrounded by her husband Scott, her 3- and 5-year-old, and, of course, a whole lot of Moms Demand Action volunteers. They snuggled in bed with her. They told her they loved her. They promised to watch over her family and garden. And they told her they’d fight in her honor during the next Texas legislative session.

Thank you for your heart fire, Catherine the Great. Moms Demand Action volunteers will keep working to make the world better — for you; for Scott, Owen and Amy; and for every unsung American hero like you who works selflessly to save American lives. That’s a pact you can be certain we’ll keep.

Shannon Watts

Written by

Founder, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

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