Catherine McNamara always liked to stay on the search and rescue sidelines until a profound personal loss changed everything.
If you step into McNamara’s home, you will probably be greeted by the smell of freshly baked bread. Her friends even call her “the breadmeister,” she said.
McNamara, who is from Spokane Valley, supported her husband Ned the best way she knew how: Her famous home-baked goods. Ned was an Air Force veteran and passionate volunteer with Spokane County Search and Rescue, which heads out into the wilderness to find missing people. He spent days training and volunteering.
“…Ned was quite a very open and kind, loving, gregarious, fun-loving person who had a zest for life and helping other people. And I think that’s probably one of the things that so many people were attracted to was he was just this kind, caring person that would go out of his way to help somebody, and do everything he could to make sure,” McNamara said.
Ned loved search and rescue work. It was the work he was doing on the fateful night of April 10, 2017.
He was training on Antoine Peak when he dropped dead of a heart attack surrounded by his teammates.
“At the memorial last year, I gave his eulogy and I remember looking out at all of the people who were in their search and rescue attire…. And I looked out and I thought ‘My gosh, this is an incredible group of people,’” McNamara said.
McNamara said the entire team was there for her in every way she needed in the weeks and months after Ned’s passing, all the while mourning the loss themselves.
That is when she decided there was a perfect way for her to thank them and honor Ned at the same time.
The woman who had been sending bread and sandwiches to the search and rescue team would officially join them.
“Ned was really avid with the fundraising and going out and talking with the different groups in the community, and I remember saying, ‘I will do whatever I can to continue on with what Ned had been doing with search and rescue,’” McNamara added.
Catherine began training with the team and fundraising. As she prepared for the ‘academy,’ which tests skills necessary to join search and rescue, she developed a deeper appreciation for what the team offered the community and each other.
“As sad as it is, it’s been in the joy of learning and doing and giving that has given me the strength to go on,” McNamara said. “It wasn’t just me supporting them, it was them supporting me in my loss. And they were very kind and very gracious.”
McNamara had to speak through tears as she expressed her gratitude for the team.
“…And they have been there. And they continue to be there. And I think it’s because of their love and support that I was able to get through the academy. With my third pair of hiking shoes,” she added.
If you visit Ned McNamara’s website, you will find photos of him and Antoine Peak, and a link to donate to the search and rescue teams he loved. His widow hopes the community will show its support and help fund the group.
“I think Shakespeare once said that the meaning of life is to find your gift, and the purpose of life is to give that away. And so if the gift is to help in search and rescue, I’m all in,” McNamara said.
McNamara is happy to report that she has officially made it through academy to join the search and rescue teams. It is safe to say the teams will have plenty of homemade goodies to enjoy on their missions.