Volunteer Spotlight

Spotlight on Emily Cato

President, Board of Governors 1985

Emily Cato began her life as a military spouse in 1963 when she was a young college graduate. Marrying into the military life was no small task during the 1960’s. At that time, it really was a military where “if they wanted you to have a wife or family, they would have issued you one.” Emily’s husband came from a strong military family and she was fortunate to have great role models for how to flourish as a military spouse.

Throughout her husband’s Army career they lived in California, Kentucky, Kansas, Virginia, Iran, and finally Washington, DC. With each move, Emily and her two children had to learn about dealing with the problems of new surroundings quickly. She worked as a schoolteacher when possible, but found it took time to establish herself professionally. “When your husband arrives at a new post, often times he knows people already, his reputation has traveled with him, and he is doing the same or a familiar job. Wives are starting from scratch, with every move, every few years. This places a huge amount of pressure on the spouse.” 

Identifying the non-productive disconnect between policymakers in the military and the needs of the family, Emily was a driving force in the foundation of the Army Family Action Committee. The AFAC was a group of Army spouses who discussed issues that affected spouses and families. Her passion lead her to volunteer with the National Military Family Association in the early 1980s. During her tenure, the Association transitioned from a largely volunteer-based organization to a funded organization with a solid foundation including the formation of the Board of Directors and the creation of the worldwide Association Representative program.

One of her proudest accomplishments was the passage of the Military Family Act in 1985. The Military Family Act was the first major piece of federal legislation that highlighted the importance of the military family. Specifically, it established the spouse preference for federal jobs and the creation of the Office of Family Policy. After a particularly inspiring session on Capitol Hill, then-President Cato received a handwritten note from Representative Patricia Schroeder (D-Colorado serving from 1973-1997) stating, “…wanted to thank you for the hard work on the Military Family Act. ONWARD!”  

Emily believes that the Association still has an incredibly important position on the national stage and continues to work hard on behalf of military families. “[The Association] is the connecting link for military families. It represents them and provides the military family with a national voice. I don’t know of a time in our history when the visibility for military families has been better.”

Emily has been an inspiration to hundreds of volunteers and military families stationed around the world, but there is more work to be done. Echoing Representative Schroeder’s earlier note, Emily sends a one-word message to all volunteers, staff, and supporters of the Association: “ONWARD!” 

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