When people asked Catherine White Holman what she did for a living, her partner Shaira Holman was always quick to interject.
She does “angel work,” Shaira liked to say.
“She saved a lot of people’s lives; she found people money and furniture and housing and help, and she was a light to so many people,” says Shaira, her voice thick with grief.
Catherine Holman was among six people who perished in a float-plane crash Nov 29 near Saturna Island.
Among her many community contributions, Catherine, a counsellor and a founding member of Vancouver’s Three Bridges clinic, wrote Guidelines for Transgender Care and Care for Transgender Adolescents, considered to be the benchmark on best practices internationally.
“The reason that we have programs like Boys R Us and Prism — all the queer health stuff — we have because of Catherine, because Catherine was there at the beginning, and she made that clinic acknowledge queers and transsexuals and street homos,” Shaira emphasizes.
“She made space for us. She was a constant advocate for the queers and all the freaks — all freaks,” Shaira says, noting that Catherine had “literally thousands” of people on her client roster.
“She loved her community,” Shaira says.
Together, the Holmans led the Pride parade’s Dykes on Bikes convoy for years.
“She loved that. She loved that I was parade daddy; she was so proud of that. And every year I’d say, ‘I’ve done that. That’s enough. We don’t need to go and do that.’ And every year, we’d go in anyway,” Shaira says with a laugh she can’t hold back, even in the midst of her tears.
When news of Sunday’s plane crash first reached the couple’s close friends and chosen family, many gathered together, hoping Catherine would be among the survivors.
“There were so many of us that we overflowed the furniture and sat on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder,” writes Elaine Miller in an online condolences page dedicated to Catherine.
“We shushed each other desperately whenever the phone rang or the radio announcements came on, and worried about Shaira and our other dear ones who were with her at the airport.
“When the terrible answer came to us, and we heard our Catherine was gone, had you been walking by the house at the time you would have heard the entire houseful of people burst into tears as one,” Miller writes.
By Dec 2, almost 200 people had visited the condolences page to post their favourite memories of Catherine, to describe the many ways in which she touched their lives, to pay tribute.
Catherine died doing one of the things she loved most: flying. “If anybody wants to know, she loved to fly,” Shaira says.
Shaira recalls a particularly turbulent flight from Palm Springs that exhilarated Catherine but terrified most of the other passengers.
“Everybody was freaking out, and they were ruining her good time,” Shaira remembers, allowing herself a brief chuckle. “I told them all to shut up because they were ruining her ride, because she was having so much fun.”
“She held my hand because I didn’t like it very much,” Shaira admits. “I didn’t like to fly very much [but] I’d fly anywhere with her because she always made it interesting.”
Shaira says the pair had 10 perfect years together and got married as soon as the laws changed.
“She was grace and beauty and elegance,” Shaira says, breaking down in tears again. “And she loved me so much. I’ve never been loved so well.”
Asked to describe her favourite memories of her wife, Shaira says there are too many to choose from.
She loved singing, Shaira notes. “Always, I could say at any time, ‘What are you singing, baby?’ and she’d just start singing it.
“And she loved to dance; and she loved to look beautiful. She said before she met me no one ever told her she was beautiful, and so I told her she was beautiful all the time.
“Every day, I told her she was beautiful. She was the best person I have ever met. Ever.”