Obituary: Cathleen ‘Cathy’ Sweeney Speer, 86

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Cathleen ‘Cathy’ Sweeney Speer, aged 86, passed away peacefully surrounded by her immediate family, after a long battle with a little known neurological disease, cortico-basalar degeneration. True to her nature, Cathy was resilient and upbeat to the very end.

Cathy was born and raised in Minnesota. She graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota in 1954, earning her BS in Medical Technology. Shortly after her graduation, she married Ensign John Warren Speer, USN, and together they embarked on a twenty-four year adventure throughout the world, which included assignments in San Diego and El Toro, California, Atsugi, Japan, Philadelphia, Norfolk, Washington, D.C., and finally Newport Rhode Island, which became their permanent home.
During her 24 years of Navy life – and often as a single parent due to John’s many deployments- she raised three children and instilled in them an expectation of commitment to education and service. Even while working full time as a Medical Technologist and supervisor of the Blood Bank at Newport Hospital, she was committed to volunteer service in her community, in the state, and at the national level. 
Her volunteer work included many years of service on the Martin Luther King Center Board, where she served as President of the Board, and as a proud member of Common Cause Rhode Island, where she served as President of the Board during the time when the State’s Separation of Powers was successfully negotiated. She was more than a 50-year member of the American Association of University Women, serving in national, state and local roles, including state President for many years. Cathy was a tireless community supporter of the arts and local organizations, including many years as a volunteer for the Newport Music Festival and Newport Restoration Foundation. Early in her volunteer life, she was recognized as an “Outstanding Young Woman of America” in 1966. Cathy also was a life long competitive duplicate bridge player, achieving life Master status, and competed nationally in Bridge tournaments until seven years ago.
Upon her husband’s retirement from the Navy in 1978, the family settled in Portsmouth, RI, where Cathy continued her career and commitment to volunteer service. Following retirement, Cathy decided to return to school at URI to pursue a graduate degree in engineering in keeping with her passion for STEM opportunities for women. She completed her MS in Civil Engineering with a specialization in environmental studies at the ripe old age of age of 68.
Cathy is survived by her husband, John, of sixty-two years and her three children and their families, including seven grandchildren: Paul and Susan Speer and two sons (Michael and Eric) of Falmouth, Massachusetts; Lisa Speer-Huet and Gregory Huet and three children (John, Cathleen, and Daniel) of Middletown, Rhode Island, and Eric and Linda Speer and their two sons (David and Christopher) of Westport, Connecticut. Cathy is also survived by many dear Minnesota family and cousins.
The family would like to thank the caregivers of Visiting Nurse Home and Hospice; the staff at the Royal Middletown, and finally the dedicated CNAs of All About Home Care, who enabled her to remain at home for so many years.
Calling hours will be held on Wednesday, December 13, 2017 from 4:00-7:00pm at Connors Funeral Home, 55 West Main Road, Portsmouth RI.
Funeral services will be held on Thursday, December 14 with a Mass of Christian Burial at 10:00am in St Barnabas Church.
In lieu of flowers, her family is requesting that donations be made in her name to the Dr. Martin Luther King Center, 20 Marcus F. Wheatland Blvd, Newport , RI 02840 ( or to Common Cause Rhode Island for their mission to support open government.

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