A Bright Light

At the bustling intersection at First and Muhammad Ali, LMPD traffic guard Kathy Cathey is a shining beacon of kindness and calm.

By Christine Fellingham  |  Photo by Kylene White

The intersection at First and Muhammad Ali — the daily drop-off and pick-up point for the J Graham Brown School — is a frenetic mess of fast cars, frantic parents and K through 12 students. There’s a stream of traffic flying off the I-65 ramp, cars parked two and three deep at the curb, sidewalks cluttered with kids carrying poster boards, and teens texting while walking.

Yet every morning and afternoon, there’s an unflappable woman in the crosswalk seeing things seemingly six steps ahead and directing cars, kids, busses and bikes in a careful choreography of urban order. She does this day after day, rain or shine, with a gigantic smile, a frequent wave and occasional hug.

Kathy Cathey has been directing traffic since January 15, 1989, and when asked how the years of yelling drivers, illegal maneuvers and pure stress hasn’t dampened her unfailing enthusiasm, she says, “I just love kids. I love what I do. I treat those children like they’re my own grandkids.”

Kathy is a mother and grandmother herself, with three grown children (two daughters and a son) and 10 grandchildren. She raised them as a single mom, “with a lot of help from their grandmothers,” she says. “Before I became a traffic guard, I was working three jobs to support them.”

Not surprisingly, this paragon of patience raised her children to treat all people with kindness. “I always told them, ‘Treat people the way you want to be treated – even if they’re mean,’” she says. “Sometimes people don’t know how to love. You have to show them.”

And she does just that — recognizing the cars of parents and guiding them through the tangle of traffic to a spot at the curb and offering words of encouragement to sleepy kids and stressed-out pedestrians.

“People ask, ‘Why are you always smiling?’ and I say, ‘God is good.’ I pray for God to be my eyes, ears, arms and legs out there.”

Kathy has twice been hit by a car at her post. “Fortunately, I was never hospitalized,” she says. She prefers to focus on the positives about her work: “Kids come up, they hug me, they tell me, ‘Have a good day.’ I love this job.”

At the age of 64, retirement looms, and she has trained others who may one day take her post. “I tell them, you don’t have to do exactly what I do. You direct traffic to the best of your ability. Sometimes I go by the light and sometimes I don’t. You develop your instincts. But always remember that you are the light out there.”

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