In Memoriam

Caitlin Wright Binning

June 29, 1966 - July 25, 2003


National Alliance for the Mentally Ill- Virginia

The Passing of Caitlin Wright Binning

Dear Friends:

For the second time this year, NAMI-Virginia has lost one of our finest heroes. We first lost mentor and Advocate-Supreme Dick Greer in January. Now, there is more bad news to bear.

It is my sad duty to report that Caitlin Wright-Binning, deputy director of NAMI-VA from 1995 to 2001, died this past Friday, July 25, of cancer. She was 37 years old. Below this message is the obituary that ran in today's Richmond Times Dispatch. There may also be a short story about her in the RTD on Tuesday.

Many of you reading this already know about Caitlin's passing away. We have received calls to the office, and it is clear that many people knew how special a person Caitlin was. It was common knowledge that her love, sacrifice and deep compassion helped thousands of consumers and families across Virginia. She helped NAMI-VA accomplish many things. The following is but a meager list:

1) She is the primary reason that Gloria Huntley's death at Central State Hospital reached public eyes to become a national scandal - forcing the human rights atrocities within Virginia's public mental health into the light of day; 

2) Caitlin was a major force in helping transform Virginia's human rights watchdog, the Department for Rights of Virginians with Disabilities, into a more independent agency, now known as the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy; 

3) Caitlin insisted NAMI-VA introduce legislation to help consumers found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity for minor crimes -- cursing, breaking windows, etc. Because of her, we now have a law that prevents consumers from serving "life sentences" in state mental hospitals for misdemeanors. 

4) Caitlin was adamant that Medicaid eligibility for Virginia's consumers was far too harsh. She was the sole person in the state who knew mental health care administrators, decision makers, and state agency heads had to understand the human consequences of Virginia's financial stinginess to people who are vulnerable, impoverished, yet too ill to fight for themselves. 

5) Caitlin became THE EXPERT on Programs of Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) in Virginia. I made her do it ... She pushed PACT at meetings related to Medicaid funding, at conferences for our members, with students calling to write papers for graduate school, new staff at the agency, and at CSBs, trying to help newly formed teams abide by the authentic treatment model. 

6) Caitlin was one of the finest case managers and clinicians I've ever met. She helped thousands of individuals and families get people into the hospital when in crisis, get out of the hospital when appropriate, get into decent housing, gain access to medication, have acceptable treatment and discharge plans, receive treatment instead of serving time in jail, and so much more.She helped families deal with horrific, unnecessary deaths of relatives, and helped some families better understand that people they loved were actually being abused or neglected, instead of receiving the "treatment" they were told to believe was taking place. She knew that families and consumers are quite smart and can learn how to advocate for themselves -- it's just that mental illness is not a career choice for most of them, and decent information about brain disorders and decent treatment is not as forthcoming as one would assume.She made our state NAMI Helpline among the finest in the nation with her exceptional skills, her ability to teach others, her willingness to be EXTREMELY unpopular if necessary, and her absolute dedication. 

7) She genuinely loved consumers. She delighted in eccentricities, knew how to communicate with even the most ill among them (especially the homeless), and lovingly embraced odd symptoms as challenges to help people either overcome or accommodate (I love the story of her diligently teaching a consumer to deal with overwhelming urges to pet ANY KIND of soft fur of ANY CREATURE in sight - live or stuffed - an odd problem that was preventing this person from getting into a supported housing program). She had legions of stories that showed how much she cherished people who were ostracized by those more comfortable in the mainstream of society.

There is so much more to her. This note cannot possibly do her justice. The above doesn't begin to illuminate all that Caitlin accomplished, and the difference she made in the lives of literally thousands of people in need and in pain.

And, I will confess that she was my best friend. I was lucky to have such a fine person love me like a sister. She was quite good to me, especially when I needed it the most. I will always miss her amazing insight, her irreverence, her off-color humor and that deep throated, almost guttural laugh, her honesty, and those funky, year-round, bare feet.

So here's but a small tribute to you, Caitlin. We are all relieved that your suffering is over. Now it is our collective, painful task to learn to live without your physical presence, and to get beyond how unfair it is that your life was taken at such a young age. And ... it seems quite unnecessary to say that your infectiously wonderful spirit will remain in many people's hearts ... for the rest of our own days, however many they may be.

With an aching and loving heart of my own -

Val Marsh 
Executive Director NAMI-Virginia