PITTSFORD — The Navy wasn’t ready for Cathy Rider when she joined in 1971.
“What John said about my military experience, yes, I knocked down some barriers, and, boy, did I have a good time doing it, because they were my brothers, and I was their sister, so we had a camaraderie about that,” she said Thursday at the annual Pittsford Veterans Day Ceremony where she was the keynote speaker.
She was introduced by Town Manager John Haverstock, who said Rider joined the military at a time when few women were signed up, and it wasn’t considered common for them to do so.
Rider spent about 10 years in the Navy. She’s lived in Pittsford for more than three decades. Her husband is a Pittsford native and Navy veteran as well. After they were out of the Navy, they ran a scrapyard.
Rider herself hails from Alameda, California.
“And I was very disappointed when I got my orders because I wanted to go to the exotic lands, the exotic ports, and I ended up an hour away, no, I think it was like, 80 or 90 miles away from my hometown,” she said. “But they made up for it because I got to go on a lot of little jaunts here and there, but that was where I was supposed to be, and that was the mission, I guess, during that time was to try to break the barriers, and I think I did a good job of it, because at the end of my tenure there we were really, really family. And that’s what veterans are, we’re family. Whether you served, whether you know somebody who served, just remember we’re all family. It’s just the way it is.”
Rider said when she joined the Navy, it had to convert a bathroom for her to use, as it had no facilities made with women in mind.
“So there were a lot of accommodations that had to be made,” she said.
Her reasons for joining were twofold.
“I actually did it out of spite because my dad was in the Army and he was always pushing me to join the Army, because his sister was in the Army, but the real story is, it was done on a hunch,” she said. “My girlfriend and I dared each other to join the Navy, and we did. And we realized, hey, we really did it, we’re going in the Navy.”
Rider didn’t spend much of her time at the podium talking about herself. Most of her speech was about the U.S. Constitution, what it means for people, and the military’s role in protecting it.
“I just want to honor the people who have served, who are serving now,” she said. “They’re protecting this, they’re protecting you, they’re protecting your children. They may not be here, they may be in a foreign land, but that’s what a veteran thinks about when they’re away. They think about you, they think about us. They’re not selfish people.”
She read the preamble to the Constitution, then later part of the Declaration of Independence. People have to know what their rights are to begin with if they’re to have them at all, she said.
“Every veteran who has served has one goal in mind and it should be in all of our minds, the young people, the veterans, the older people, even people who haven’t served, protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic,” she said. “That should be in all of our hearts today and every day. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you were in the military, if you were not in the military, we need to protect this document, this is all we’ve got.”
Prior to Rider’s address, Anne Pelkey, of the Pittsford Historical Society, and Shelly Williams, director of Maclure Library, talked about the Pittsford Wall of Honor, which they’ve endeavored to have bear the name of every Pittsford veteran.
“The phrase ‘No man left behind’ is easy to say but much more difficult to embody,” said Pelkey. “The Pittsford Veterans Committee learned that very quickly. No veteran left unacknowledged is the philosophy of the Pittsford Veterans Committee. We have taken that to heart.”
For a small town, there’s a lot of veterans to account for, at least 1,300.
“Pittsford should be proud of the contribution their ancestors made to create and sustain our country. Before Vermont was a state, and long since then, the people of Pittsford have answered the call to defend our country,” she said, noting that town veterans, in the colonial days, had been tasked with defending Fort Vengeance and Fort Mott.
The Veterans Day event has been steadily growing through the years. This year, under clear, blue skies it drew about 75 people. The Lothrop School Singers provided a patriotic soundtrack, Pastor Joel Tate of Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church delivered the invocation, Scouts from Troops 110 and 2019 led the Pledge of Allegiance, while Kaylon Carvey sounded taps.
This was likely Haverstock’s last Pittsford Veterans Day ceremony as town manager. The tradition began in 2016 with installation of the memorial. He plans to leave the town office by March, but said Thursday that he’s not going far and wants to return next year.