JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It can seem impossible for one person to make a difference in an entire community.
That idea didn’t exist for one Springfield woman whose name, long after her passing, lives on through service and outreach.
Catherine Hester McNair’s legacy is continuing through the work of her daughter, Evonne Lane, and granddaughter, Tinetta Lane-Bynes.
“What she did first was to win the confidence, to win the trust of the seniors, to win the trust of the community,” said Evonne Lane, McNair’s daughter. “Once she did that, everything else was easy.”
While McNair never held an official position, her daughter and granddaughter said she was without a doubt the unofficial mayor of Springfield.
“This particular community, at the time of her initiative, was in dire straits -- full of gangs, drug dealers,” Lane-Bynes said. “But I literally saw my grandmother go and talk to the gang members, go and talk to the drug dealers by herself as a woman. Who does that?”
McNair never meant or planned to become an advocate for her community. Her passion sparked from an unlikely source.
“A plea that President Ronald Regan had at the time back in 1982. He was pleading with Americans that we need to help with our seniors,” said Lane-Bynes said.
That’s where it started.
“She went to the doctor with these seniors because they would sit in these doctor’s offices. They had these ailments, illnesses, but they didn’t understand the language of these physicians. We’re talking about seniors that did not finish school,” Lane said.
Even with a limited education herself, McNair sat with those seniors to make sure they understood the care they were getting and, at the same time, reason with gang members while also demanding change from the men in charge.
“Mom worked with the mayors. She didn’t work against them -- she worked with them,” Lane said.
McNair also demanded change from law enforcement.
“She had the police zone change brought here,” Lane said. “The city of Jacksonville, when they see her, ‘here come Catherine, here come Catherine,’ because they knew, when she come, don’t tell her no.”
McNair was presented an award by WJXT and also received a proclamation from the city of Jacksonville.
“That same spirit, that same enthusiasm is the drive here today,” Lane said.
Following McNair’s passing, her daughter and granddaughter took over her legacy, now running the Bridge The Gap nonprofit out of a building on the edge of Catherine Hester McNair Park.
“We have homebound that we serve. We deliver to the homebound right now. We have about 400 homebound that we provide services too,” said Lane-Bynes. “We do personal care products. We do clothing. We have a program called the Health Month.”
The organization also hosts food drives with Feeding Northeast Florida and COVID-19 vaccine pop-up events.
“We have people who come here, and you can tell they just shot themself up with drugs,” Lane-Bynes said. “But that doesn’t stop us from continuing the commitment to make a difference.”
And Lane-Bynes said that commitment to make a difference started with her grandmother.