Catherine Kelly Baird, 66, passed away peacefully on March 24 surrounded by her loving family and friends in Sacramento. Although the pain and heartbreak of losing this incredible woman seems almost unbearable, the knowledge of the wonderful life she led will hopefully bring peace to the many of us who loved her so deeply. It was clear at an early age that Catherine was truly gifted. A brilliant student leader, athlete and musician, she delivered her eighth grade graduation speech. Her real challenge began about six months later. A few months into her freshman year of high school, over night, she developed a severe case of rheumatoid arthritis. She was hospitalized for more than a year. She was so weak she almost died. Catherine had too many surgeries to count, and she was only fourteen. With courage and grace, she refused to give up. After two years at home-study, she attended high school, and graduated with her class in 1967. An amazing story in itself, but she was just getting started. She attended Cerritos Junior College and Pepperdine University. It was during this time that she met her soulmate and the love of her life, Monty Baird. It was a marriage made in heaven; they were madly in love. She was so happy. Catherine and Monty moved from Southern to Northern California, attending Sonoma State College. They received their B.A.'s in Social Work. In the summer of 1975, they moved to Sacramento where Catherine's journey became almost magical, as she attained goals she had never dared imagine. In the early 1980's Catherine began her career at the California Department of Rehabilitation as a student intern in the 504 Office while attending California State University Sacramento, obtaining her Masters in Social Work. She went on to became the Executive Director of the California Govenor's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities at the Employment Development Department. Catherine provided the leadership and staff to initiate the Media Access Office in Hollywood to create opportunities for people with disabilities in the media and entertainment industries, and the Windmills Attitudinal Training aimed at educating and changing attitudes about people with disabilities, especially targeting employers in hiring capacities. While there, she also served as Chair of the National Association of Governors Committees. In 1992 Catherine cofounded the California Youth Leadership Forum for Students with Disabilities (YLF). It became a model replicated in over 30 states, providing generations of youth with disabilities the tools and independent living skills to advocate on behalf at themselves as they transition from high school to higher education and employment. By living her life with dignity and self-assurance, she was a role model to the youth she served, and to all of us. Catherine was currently serving on the Sacramento Paratransit board, and working for Friends, Inc. in fund raising. Always busy, she received numerous recognitions over the years. Catherine hosted an annual "Peace party;" it was always a joyous occasion. She shined when surrounded by family and friends. She created a sanctuary in her home and backyard, filled with whimsical art, a vegetable garden, fruit trees, birdfeeders, and a swimming pool used by folks of all ages and abilities. Laughter rang throughout the summer. When you came to Catherine's house, you were warmly welcomed. Rest in peace, sweet sister. Catherine was preceded in death by her parents, Elbert and Carmella Kelly, and her beloved husband Monty. She is survived by her brothers, Bill Kelly and Brian Trainor, and sisters-in-law Paula and Elizabeth, and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews and the 1400 children she mentored and loved. A gathering to honor her life will be held April 23 at 2:00pm at The Scottish Rite Masonic Center, 6151 H. Street in Sacramento. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the "Catherine Kelly Baird Youth Leadership Forum Endowment Fund." They can be made at https://calylf.org/donate/
through PayPal or by credit card, or by check addressed to: Denise Boshers, Treasurer Friends, Inc. 9705 Swansboro Way Bakersfield, CA 93314
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Published by The Sacramento Bee on Apr. 2, 2016.