In Memoriam

Caitlin Wright Binning

June 29, 1966 - July 25, 2003

Richmond Times Dispatch 

Jul 29, 2003 
Virginia advocate for mentally ill dies

Caitlin Wright Binning exposed abuse, neglect


Mentally ill people in Virginia have lost one of the strongest voices they ever had.

Caitlin Wright Binning died of cancer Friday at her home in Annandale. She was 37.

Mrs. Binning played a pivotal role in exposing abuse and neglect in the state's mental-health system. As former director of research at the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill-Virginia, she also fought to make the system work better for the people who depended on it.

"She was the finest advocate in the entire commonwealth of Virginia," said Valerie L. Marsh, executive director of the Virginia branch of the alliance.

Mrs. Binning helped document the death of Gloria Huntley in Central State Hospital near Petersburg in 1996, leading to a federal investigation of the institution. She helped expose deaths at other state mental hospitals and challenged the way the mentally ill were treated by the system that was supposed to give them care.

"She was my moral compass and the agency's moral compass," Marsh said. "She was the one who knew when it was time to be outraged."

Mrs. Binning worked to change the state's laws for guarding against abuse in state mental institutions and to create the Virginia Office for Protection and Advocacy. She promoted the use of the Program for Assertive Community Treatment, which sends teams of mental-health workers into communities to track and help the ill.

She pushed to change the law so Virginia no longer would indefinitely institutionalize mentally ill people who pleaded guilty to minor crimes because of insanity. She worked to make more mentally disabled and impoverished people eligible for Medicaid benefits.

And she helped people on the street get the help they needed.

"She never said no," said her husband, Timothy Binning. "She never dropped the ball . . . when folks had nowhere else to go."

Born in Colorado and raised in the Richmond area, Mrs. Binning received bachelor's and master's degrees in social work from Virginia Commonwealth University. She worked for community-services boards in Chesterfield County and Petersburg as well as the Daily Planet, a nonprofit agency for the homeless in Richmond. Before her illness, she worked briefly as deputy director of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in Washington.

She married her husband on June 29, 2000, her 34th birthday. Mrs. Binning cherished her family, her husband said yesterday. "She was just a joy," he said.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her mother, Maureen Larkin Wright of Amelia; a brother, Sean Wright of Lovingston; and six half-siblings.

A service will be held Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington County.