Ridgefielder remembered for 'selfless' contributions to the community

RIDGEFIELD — When Cathy Prior first visited Ridgefield, she, like many newcomers, “fell in love with Main Street,” her son, Patrick, said.

The family officially relocated to Ridgefield from Yorktown, N.Y., in 1996, but were members at the Recreation Center even before they moved into their house.

In the 25 years she lived in Ridgefield, Prior made a handful of contributions to the town’s arts and sports sectors. She died at Regional Hospice of Danbury on July 8 following a colon cancer diagnosis in April. She was 68 years old.

Coming from a town where lacrosse was “a powerhouse,” Patrick said, the family was surprised that Ridgefield did not have a youth team for girls. So Prior took it upon herself to organize one.

“Before my mom’s team, girls didn’t begin lacrosse until they were freshmen in high school,” Patrick said. “She went through the process to get girls to sign up and coordinated practices with other towns.”

Prior is also credited for founding Ridgefield’s girls’ ice hockey team in 1997, which eventually became an official sports program at the high school.

“She had a real conviction that sports would pave the way for children to develop friendships, interpersonal skills and leadership skills,” Patrick said. “She saw the importance of being a part of something.”

This conviction was also evidenced in Prior’s nearly 40-year career as a social worker. As a team leader and coordinator at BOCES in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., she worked “hand in hand” with teachers to create special programs for kids “that didn’t fit in a box,” Patrick explained.

“She was talented in identifying children’s needs to help them grow,” he added. “Anyone she had come across, she wanted the best for them. ... She was very selfless when it came to helping others.”

Following her retirement in 2014, Prior had the opportunity to “live the life she wanted to,” Patrick said. She took painting classes in Ridgefield and UConn Stamford, and piano classes at Juilliard for $60 a semester. She began to garden, relearned to weave and joined a number of community organizations.

“Cathy Prior was a great friend of the Ridgefield Guild of Artists,” said Mary Harold, vice president of the guild’s Board of Directors. “Her ever-friendly smile and cheerful attitude were always welcomed when she bounded through the doors of our art gallery. She had a keen intellect and so enjoyed sharing her knowledge.”

Harold noted when the guild hosted its annual ArtWalk in previous years, a crowd would always form around Prior’s weaving loom. She also donated many art books to the guild, Harold said, which now “inspire creativity” among its students and campers.

The donations were a result of Prior’s downsizing. Last year, she bought a house in Florida and set her sights on becoming a “snowbird,” Patrick said. But plans changed when Prior’s ex-husband, Bernard, was admitted to hospice following a yearslong battle with esophagus cancer.

“My dad was in hospice since September (2020), and she spent a few hours with him every single day instead of going to Florida,” Patrick said. “She changed her plans to be there for him.”

After Bernard died on March 26, Prior traveled to Florida for a needed vacation. Less than two weeks later, however, she felt a pain in her side. X-rays revealed inoperable tumors on Prior’s colon and liver.

Patrick went to retrieve his mother from the airport a day later.

“She had already had 24 hours to process (the diagnosis) by the time I picked her up from JFK,” he recalled. “She said, ‘I’m at peace, whatever happens happens, I just don’t want to be in pain.’”

Prior underwent chemotherapy for a month, but gave up the treatment on June 1.

“Until the day she died, she was just grateful for the life she had,” Patrick said. “She wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”

Prior is survived by her daughter, Kerry Puleo, of Patterson, N.Y., Patrick and daughter in-law Gina (DiCarlo) Prior, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and four grandchildren: Olivia, Clare, Bryanna and Austin. She is predeceased by her grandson, Danny, and her brother Hugh O’Connor.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Prior’s memory to Regional Hospice of Danbury.

alyssa.seidman@hearstmediact.com