“Smiling Back,” New Era, Feb. 1986, 29
When Cathy Gurley was young, she had a dream. More than anything else, she wanted to be Miss Rosewood, queen of her school. Her goal was to be someone that the other students at the school would look to as an example. So she practiced dancing and singing, talents she thought would help her win the contest.
When she was a senior in high school, Cathy was voted Miss Rosewood in the town of Goldsboro, North Carolina. Then she started winning other contests, like the district FHA Sweetheart, and queen of the Wayne County Fireman’s Pageant, and eventually Miss North Carolina Teen Hemisphere.
But on her way to those recognitions, Cathy became a real winner when she developed another talent. It wouldn’t help her win a contest, but it helped her win friends and lift the spirits of people who needed help. Cathy learned how to care about other people.
“I really enjoy helping people,” said Cathy. “When I smile, I like to see them smile back. And so many people need someone to help them.”
Cathy has been helping people—the elderly, the retarded, the handicapped. She’s spent hundreds of hours visiting her friends at rest homes, singing at dances for retarded people, visiting at a center for severely retarded people, adopting a grandparent, helping her mother teach a Sunday School class for the retarded, and being a friend to people who are too often friendless. Cathy’s mom gave her encouragement along the way and helped organize many of the parties where Cathy performed.
“My older brother Bobby is retarded, so it’s natural that I’d associate with other retarded children,” said Cathy. “I couldn’t ask for a better brother. He’s seven years older than I am, and I was born on his birthday. He’s always said that I was his birthday present. We’ve been very close.”
Cathy would go to parties for her brother Bobby and his friends and sing for them. “I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer, so it was fun for me. They don’t care how bad you sing. They appreciate even small things. The rest of us need to be more like they are.”
Cathy’s mother worked in rest homes when Cathy was little and sometimes had to work on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. “I wanted her to understand why I couldn’t be at home, so I’d bring her to the rest homes with me on those holidays,” said Sister Gurley.
“She’d leave me and go talk to the people. Cathy has never been afraid of a retarded or elderly or handicapped person, maybe because she was brought up around them.”
Growing up with her brother also helped Cathy develop sensitivity to others. Her mother said, “I’d come home from work tired, and Bobby would say he wanted to go meet his friends. I’d tell him I was just too tired and couldn’t get him dressed. Then Cathy would say, ‘If I dress him and get him ready to go, would you take him?’
“Christ told us we need to become like little children. So many of these people have that sweetness like little children. They never hold a grudge or lash out at people,” added Sister Gurley.
Cathy has also spent many hours helping at rest homes. “I guess because I was so close to my grandparents and my mother is a nurse, it was easy for me to volunteer my time,” said Cathy. “My Aunt Mamie worked as a recreation specialist at a rest home when I was 11, so she’d ask me and my cousin to go over there and help. We’d spend the whole day. We’d play bingo with the people. I’d help roll them in their wheelchairs out into the middle of the halls for supper, deliver the mail, read to them if they needed it, and just talk.”
Eventually, Cathy “adopted” a grandfather, a friend of her grandmother.
“My grandfather died when I was very young, so my grandmother started dating Waldo,” said Cathy. “They’d come out to my house to visit, and I enjoyed his friendship. When my grandmother died, he sort of got out of circulation and didn’t have any companionship. My grandmother had more or less taken care of him and fixed him supper each day. So Waldo and I kept in touch, and I decided to adopt him. I’d call and see how he was doing, stop by to see him, visit him on holidays, and take him treats. Now he’s in a rest home, and we keep in close touch.”
Cathy has helped with a Sunday School class for the handicapped, too, held in her home after regular church meetings. The first hour of the class the students learn about the scriptures, and the second hour they do crafts. Cathy often makes cookies or cupcakes for them. She also found time to organize a drill team for grade school girls.
Cathy has always found time to accomplish her goals. She has helped with political campaigns and even served as a page in her state legislature. She attended seminary for four years. (“It really helped me gain a testimony,” said Cathy.) She took modeling classes for several years, and her teacher encouraged her to enter the Miss Teen North Carolina Hemisphere competition.
“I won the state competition, so I competed in the nationals, which were held in Philadelphia and included the western hemisphere—Guam, Canada, the U.S., and the Bahamas,” Cathy said.
“I learned that it wasn’t that important to be beautiful. I just wanted to put on my jeans and be myself, but for 24 hours a day I was there fixing my hair and putting on lipstick, and I’m just not used to doing that much. You couldn’t go out of your door unless you were all dressed up, and that’s just not for me.
“I really enjoyed entertaining others for the competition, though, and it helped me develop a talent I didn’t think I had. I’d always taken ballet, but I realized I needed another talent to win the state competition. I told my mom, ‘I’ve got to sing!’ She smiled and said, ‘You can’t sing.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m just going to have to learn.’ So I took lessons and practiced, and I won the contest. I realize now that I can sing and not be embarrassed. I met some nice people in the pageant, too.”
She also realized that she was an example to a lot of her friends. “Lots of times at high school I wouldn’t go to parties because I knew there would be drinking. Everybody would go, and I would sit home. It wasn’t always easy, but it was the right thing.
“Then some of my friends would tell me things like ‘I really don’t enjoy drinking, and I don’t know why I do. I wish I had the courage to say no.’ They’d see me and realize that they didn’t have to drink. It’s important to do what you know is right.”
In the Gurley’s front room, Cathy’s trophies are displayed. She’s won awards for most valuable cheerleader, most valuable model at her modeling school, FHA Sweetheart, and first-place in beauty, talent, modeling, and most photogenic for North Carolina Teen Hemisphere.
But she doesn’t need a trophy for the things that are most important to her. She carries those qualities around with her every day.
The Savior said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34).
That’s another goal that Cathy’s working toward.