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Mary R. Cathcart

Mary R. CathcartMary R. Cathcart of Orono is a former advocate for battered women, a Maine State Representative and State Senator, and currently a Senior Policy Associate with the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. In 2009, she co-founded Maine NEW Leadership, a six-day, intensive, nonpartisan institute held annually at the University of Maine and designed to educate, engage, and empower the next generation of women leaders for Maine.

Mary has worked tirelessly in various capacities over the past thirty years to advance the cause of women in Maine, to improve their lives, and to bring enduring change. She was nominated for this honor by the Penobscot Valley Branch of AAUW, where she has been a member since the 1980’s and serves on the Leadership Team.

Mary Cathcart’s association with women’s concerns began shortly after she arrived in Maine as a young wife and mother of two young children in the 1970’s.  She enrolled in hotline training at Spruce Run, a new organization at the time, and the third oldest domestic violence shelter in the country. Mary worked with others in the statewide domestic violence coalition to seek funding for shelters and pass legislation to protect women and their children from abuse.

After several years as a hotline volunteer and steering committee member, Mary was hired as community education coordinator for Spruce Run; she trained volunteers for public speaking and hotline service, worked with the media to publicize the facts about violence against women, and engaged with local law enforcement and the district attorney on better training for police and placing an advocate for battered women in the DA’s office.  Because of that work, Mary was appointed to the Maine Commission for Women. Believing that the Commission should reach out to women beyond Augusta, she was instrumental in founding the Eastern Regional Commission for Women, which was responsible for re-establishing a rape crisis center for the Bangor region. 

In 1988, Mary was elected to the Maine House of Representatives, where she sponsored legislation to strengthen Maine’s Protection from Abuse Act. In the 1990s, she was appointed by former U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell to the United States Commission on Child and Family Welfare, and was elected by her peers to chair that body, which held public hearings around the country and made important recommendations on parental rights and responsibilities in the best interest of children.

In both the Maine House and Maine Senate, Mary continued to advocate for social justice, particularly for women and children.  She sponsored legislation to require a judge to consider a history of domestic abuse between the parents when determining custody and visitation arrangements, and also brought forward legislation concerning breastfeeding. 

Elected to the Maine Senate in 1996, Mary Cathcart quickly became known as a staunch supporter of higher education. Determined to convince the State to invest in research and development, she sponsored legislation that resulted in the creation of Maine’s first Joint Select Committee on Research and Development, which she co-chaired for 2 years.  Her efforts led to a successful R&D bond and ongoing funding to support University research.

Throughout her years in office, Mary not only worked with other legislators on both sides of the aisle to craft good public policy but also devoted many hours to assisting her constituents with their concerns and problems.  She had a reputation for always returning constituents’ calls and listening with empathy to what they had to say. 

When Mary reached her 4-term limit in the Maine Senate, she was offered a position in the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine.

She has sought to build stronger relationships between Maine’s flagship public university and state government, initiating a program that brings 2 or 3 state leaders to campus each semester for one-day residencies to educate UMaine students and faculty on the challenges policymakers face and encourage them to engage in public service.  At the MCS Center, Mary co-founded Maine NEW Leadership in 2009, to offer undergraduate women students an opportunity to receive, at no charge, hands-on leadership training to build their confidence in themselves as potential leaders and inspire them toward public service and political action.  Mary continues to co-direct the program, which has prepared 106 younger women from 27 different higher education institutions to step forward as leaders.  She is dedicated to sustaining the NEW Leadership institute and spends numerous hours networking, fundraising, and seeking opportunities for students to practice their leadership skills through shadowing women legislators and speaking to civic organizations.

Mary has found time also to volunteer as a board member at a number of organizations, including the New England Board of Higher Education, which she chaired in 2006-2008; Eastern Maine Medical Center; Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community; and Maine Center for Economic Policy.

Mary Cathcart envisions a future where women and children feel safe to pursue their dreams, women’s voices are heard everywhere, and women occupy at least half the seats at the tables of power.

Photograph 2013
Inducted  2013