Sunday, December 8, 2013
By Gillian Graham email@example.com
Catherine "Cathy" Russo would open her home and her heart to anyone who was alone at the holidays.
Catherine Russo not only helped humans in need, she also cared for sick or injured animals, her family said.
The newsroom selects one obituary and seeks to learn more about the life of a person who has lived and worked in Maine. We look for a person who has made a mark on the community or the person's family and friends in lasting ways.
Ms. Russo, a former boxer who was devoted to her family, died Friday after a brief bout with an aggressive form of cancer. She was 64.
Ms. Russo grew up in Portland, the second-oldest of eight children. Her sisters remembered her Sunday as a funny and honest person whose loyalty to her family and friends was always evident.
"She was a loving, caring, wonderful person who took care of anyone who needed help," said her older sister, Sandra Aceto of Portland. "She could make anybody smile."
At Thanksgiving and Christmas, Ms. Russo would open her home to homeless friends who had nowhere else to go for the holidays. Her commitment to helping others was something passed on to her from her mother, Elizabeth Russo, Aceto said.
"She took care of a lot of people throughout her life: people who needed to eat, people who were sick," Aceto said.
Ms. Russo's younger sister, Mary Jo Lawry of Texas, said her sister was the protector of the family.
"She was always a very strong person and very giving," she said. "She'd give the shirt off her back to anybody who needed it."
Ms. Russo's passion for helping others extended to animals. Her younger sister, Brenda Russo of Portland, said Ms. Russo once showed up at the family home with a friend's horse.
"Down Douglas Street they came on a horse. They tied it up in our yard," Brenda Russo said. "Our parents were shocked to look out and see the horse. They chuckled and said, 'That's our Catherine.'"
Another time, when she was about 13, Ms. Russo came home with a crow that had a broken wing. She was crying when she told her parents she wanted to fix the bird, Aceto said.
"We had a very small bathroom and she filled the bathtub up with water, washed him off and put a Band-aid on him," Aceto recalled with a chuckle. "My parents made her take him out, so she made a cage for him until he got better and flew off."
In the late 1970s, Ms. Russo took an interest in boxing at a time when few women were involved in the sport. She became the first woman to compete in a boxing match at the Portland Expo when she participated in an exhibition match on Thanksgiving in 1977. By the next year, she has reached a sixth-place ranking in the welterweight division of the Women's Boxing Federation.
Over the years, Ms. Russo worked in construction, in meat departments at local stores, and for JVR Inc., her father's business. Her family described her as a hard worker who enjoyed non-traditional roles.
Her sisters said Sunday that they admired Ms. Russo for her strength and her role as a supportive sister, aunt and friend. Though she often took care of others, Ms. Russo never wanted her family to worry about her. She found out she had cancer two months ago, but waited a month to tell her family because she did not want people to be sad, her sisters said.
"It was inspiring to see what a caring person she was," Lawry said. "She cherished everything that meant a lot to her."
Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at: