News

Longtime F.C. Educator, Activist ‘Cay’ Wiant Dies

A memorial service will be held this Friday, July 10 at the Falls Church Presbyterian Church, 225 E. Broad Street for M. Catherine “Cay” Wiant, a deeply-respected, long-time Falls Church educator and community activist, who died July 2 following a long battle with brain cancer. The service will begin at 7:30 p.m.

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Ms. Wiant died at age 64 in the arms of Jon, her husband of 43 years, in the early evening last Thursday. She remained conscious of her surroundings and peaceful until she fell off to sleep shortly before passing away.

As one who wrote frequently about the world of fairies and was renowned for her story-telling, when Ms. Wiant died and was taken from her home, her husband reported that the yard was suddenly filled with fireflies, and he wrote, “It was a sure sign to her family that the fairies were joining her on the last leg of her long journey.”

Since November 2007, Ms. Wiant waged a heroic struggle against brain cancer that included several hospitalizations. A brief remission last December gave her family and friends the opportunity to toast her daughter, Meg, and her new husband at their pre-Christmas wedding.

A dedicated teacher at the middle- and high-school levels in the Falls Church School System, named the system’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year in 2003, Ms. Wiant was known as a dedicated environmentalist and civic activist, serving steadfastly with the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS) and participating in many Arbor Day tree planting efforts and ceremonies.

For almost a decade from the mid-90s on, she was head of the employee-based Falls Church Education Association, advocating passionately and eloquently on behalf of the salary and related needs of the employees of the system.

She is survived by her husband, Jon, daughter Meg and son Teddy, both of Falls Church. In one of her last public outings, she joined Jon, Meg and Teddy on a trip to the Ward One polling place the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School to cast their votes in the June 9 Democratic primary election. A photo of the family emerging from the polling place and all smiling appeared in the News-Press last month.

Cay Wiant was born in Duluth, Minn., on Nov. 19, 1944. Shortly after World War II ended, her family moved to California. Her school years were spent in South Pasadena and Vallejo, where she graduated from high school. She received a B.A. degree in literature from San Jose State College in San Jose, Calif., and a post-graduate education certificate from the University of Denver. Later, she received an M.A. degree in writing from George Mason University in Fairfax.

Ms. Wiant began her teaching career in 1967 in Casper, Wyo., teaching seventh-grade English at East Junior High School. From 1968 to 1970, she worked as an office manager for a chemical firm in Boulder, Colo., and in 1970, was hired to teach seventh-grade English at South Seneca Central School in upstate New York, and taught there for five years.

At the same time, she did graduate research and Athens University and Anatolia College in Thessaloniki, Greece. In 1975, she researched comparative mythology in Burma, Thailand and Malaysia. From 1975 to 1977, she developed curricula on comparative mythologies and myth origins for the Washington International School in Washington, D.C.

In 1977, she began performing as a professional storyteller, and for nine years, presented shows at various schools in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area, including the Smithsonian Institution and at the Wolf Trap International Children’s Festival. Since returning to teaching in 1986 in the Falls Church City Public Schools, she continued to tell stories in Falls Church’s Cherry Hill Farmhouse every Halloween and Valentine’s Day.

In 1986, Ms. Wiant began her Falls Church Schools career as a gifted education resource teacher at the Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. She then became a long-term substitute in sixth-grade English and was hired as the school’s seventh-grade English teacher in 1987, a position she held until 1998 when she became the eighth-grade English and writing teacher at George Mason Middle and then High School until her retirement in 2007.

Ms. Wiant was president of the Falls Church Education Association for nearly 10 years, addressing the “Back to School” breakfast of the entire school system staff and teacher core every late August and at least one, and often more, City Council and School Board meetings every spring to advocate eloquently for deserved salary and benefits increases for school employees.

In 2003, she won the prestigious Agnes Meyer Outstanding Teacher Award for the Falls Church system, presented by the Washington Post. In May 2008, faculty and students at George Mason High landscaped a butterfly garden in a quiet corner of land adjacent her former classroom. A path in the garden leads to a bench where a plaque honors her as “A Dedicated Teacher and Passionate Environmentalist.”

Ms. Wiant was a consultant in the Northern Virginia Writing Project. In the early 1990s, she wrote numerous book reviews for the Falls Church News-Press, where son, Teddy, began working in the mid-1990s by producing the newspaper’s weekly television show on Falls Church Cable Television. After her retirement from teaching, Ms. Wiant began teaching writing for Falls Church’s educational non-profit Creative Cauldron, until her illness interrupted the effort.

At the time of her death, she had just completed the draft of her first novel, a fantasy for young adults set in the Rockbridge County area of the Shenandoah Valley.

Ms. Wiant was elected a fellow in the Society for Values in Higher Education in 1990. A long-time member of the VPIS, she served on numerous community boards and advisory groups, and was active in the Falls Church League of Women Voters. She sang in the Falls Church Presbyterian Church choir and was also a deacon at the church.

In addition to her immediate family, she is survived by her father, Frank Buck of Salinas, Calif., and sisters Margorie of Westford, Mass., Virginia of San Jose, Calif., and Joanne of Portland, Ore. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made in her name to the Capital Hospice.