As the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission prepares for a nationwide commemoration of America’s 250th anniversary, get to know the people behind the celebration with our Commissioner Spotlight Series.
Q: Who’s your favorite Founding Father or other American hero? In what ways might you be like them?
Cathy: My favorite founding father is George Washington. I live right down the road from Mount Vernon and drive by General Washington’s home multiple times every day. George Washington presided over the three miracles of America: winning our independence; the writing of the United States Constitution; and as our country’s first president, the defining of the presidency and the first peaceful transfer of power from one president to another. Washington was a true servant leader, sacrificing again and again for our nation, when he would have much rather been at his beloved Mount Vernon. I would never dare compare myself to General Washington, except to say that we are neighbors!
Q: What is the strongest national pride you’ve ever felt?
Cathy: The strongest national pride I’ve ever felt was July 4, 1976. I was so excited for our country’s 200th birthday! I was in the high school band, and some of us played in our city’s July 4th parade. We watched fireworks that night and I remember taking copies of the July 4, 1976 Dallas Morning News and the Dallas Times Herald to make a special box decorated with headlines from the day. I recently found the box and plan to bring it, along with the newspapers, to our next in-person Commission meeting!
Q: What is your favorite American saying or quote? Why does it inspire you?
Cathy: “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” – John Adams
It reminds me that “we the people” have a responsibility to be active, educated and informed citizens. If we don’t know what our rights are, we won’t know when they are taken away. This is what drives my work with Constituting America, the nonprofit Constitution education foundation I have co-chaired with founder and actress Janine Turner for the last 10 years, and the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission. It is the responsibility of every generation to ensure the next generations are educated, to preserve liberty.
As Ronald Reagan famously said at the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce in 1961, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
Q: What is a unique viewpoint from your home state that you’re excited to bring to this nationwide project?
Cathy: My home state, Virginia, has always played an outsized role in our nation’s birth and history. Virginia is the birthplace of eight presidents, including four of the first five. Our country’s history is embedded in our Commonwealth, from the founding to the present day, from Mount Vernon, Montpelier, and Monticello to Moton High School in Farmville to Mary W. Jackson’s work at NASA in Hampton. I’m excited to help tell the story of our nation!
Q: What was your first brush with democracy?
Cathy: My first brush with democracy, in our republic, was visiting the Texas State Capitol with my Girl Scout Troop when I was in the fifth grade. Our state senator, Ike Harris, showed us around and we got a great photo on the Capitol steps. I loved it! I was then inspired to write President Nixon a letter, and a few years later begged my father to take me to SMU so I could get a glimpse of President Ford arriving for a speech. It was the most exciting thing I had ever witnesses, and it made me feel proud of our country, and of the democratic process that drives our republic.
Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for America in the next 250 years?
Cathy: My hopes and aspirations for America in the next 250 years is that we focus not on what divides us, but what unites us. This is laid out in our nation’s founding principles and our inalienable rights and freedoms outlined in the Declaration of Independence and protected by the Constitution. My hope is that our next generations have a renewed interest in learning our country’s history, the principles underscoring our founding, our United States Constitution, and that they become educated and engaged citizens committed to “a more perfect union,” the goal to which we all aspire.
Cathy Gillespie serves as co-chair of the nonpartisan educational 501 (c)(3) Constituting America with Actress Janine Turner. She has held numerous positions in government and politics over the past 34 years, including congressional chief of staff and member of the Presidents Commission on the White House Fellows. She is active in a number of charitable organizations, having served on the Board of Visitors of Virginia State University, the board of Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services and the Board of Bishop Ireton High School.