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The cats of Lavaca lost a loyal friend on January 17. Rose Mary Pedersen Budge, who had lived in Lavaca since 2005, cared for a multitude of neighborhood cats over the years. She also developed many friendships throughout the area, often initiated via sidewalk conversations as she cared for the cats or walked through the neighborhood to run all her errands.

According to her cousin, Sydney Bartko, Rose Mary “always had a cat!” She was also a talented journalist, beginning when she was editor of her high school paper, the Grizzly, in Logan, Utah, where she grew up. She graduated in 1961 from Utah State University, where she earned high honors and was editor of the literary magazine, Scribbles.

Rose Mary subsequently worked at the Deseret News in Salt Lake for many years, and during her time as Fashion Editor, she won multiple awards for her coverage of that industry. Syd recounted that Rose Mary greatly enjoyed traveling frequently to cover fashion events in both New York and Los Angeles for the paper.

Rose Mary Budge (photo by Nick Nguyen)

Kathryn Jones: Rose Mary was the first person we met in the neighborhood in 2009. When we were looking at the house next door to her that we eventually bought, she saw us from her back yard and called out a friendly greeting and introduced herself, welcoming us in advance to the block.

Although we are dog people and my husband feeds birds, most interactions in that regard were positive. Once when my husband had concerns about cats going after the birds, Rose Mary promised, with a straight face, that she’d “have a talk with the cats about that.” I was never sure if she was serious or teasing us.

She was always willing to help rescue a cat, of course. The most memorable incident was when we discovered a kitten in the engine of one of our cars!

For a couple of years, one of our daughters lived with us while attending college. She and Rose Mary became fast friends and held many long conversations over our shared fence. My daughter got married in 2018, and the black and white photo of Rosemary accompanying this article is from that occasion. Rose Mary was so happy to attend and the whole family was so pleased she could be there. Our older daughter’s young daughter, Lilli, later became Rose Mary’s cat-feeding companion when she visited us, and Rose Mary delighted in sharing this activity with her.

In much the same way she had welcomed us to the neighborhood, Rose Mary immersed and engaged us further in the neighborhood upon her death. We bonded with some of our neighbors, despite our political differences, to find her and get her help, albeit too late; we continue to coordinate care of her cats and her property; and we share stories of Rose Mary, her independence, and her generosity of spirit. She taught us what it meant to be a neighbor, and we hope to honor her memory by carrying on her neighborly ways.

Rita Heck: I first became aware of Rose Mary Budge as Fashion Editor of the Express-News when I was a Life Style freelancer. When she bought a house across the street in the Lavaca neighborhood, we became instant friends. It started out with lunches, especially for our June and July birthdays, holiday dinners, and awards show viewing at our house (she had no TV), and occasional attendance at art shows and other events.

Rose Mary got hooked on rescuing cats while her husband was still alive and they lived in a Commerce Street apartment, where some stray kittens found a home. After her retirement she took on a few freelance writing jobs, but the ferals became her full-time interest: feeding, taking them to the vet, even adding a back porch to her home for weather protection. Helped out by The Cannoli  Fund, Rose Mary cared for ferals throughout the neighborhood, walking with a cart to keep them (and herself) in food. Rose Mary would walk miles every day to do her chores; all bill-paying was done personally. She would never accept any help.

Rose Mary loved giving and she would often surprise us with HEB blueberry muffins or pumpkin bread from Guenther House. She walked to all of them. Her holiday gifts are lifetime memories: large baskets of plants, a stained glass cross, kitchen items. I loved looking for cat items on Amazon to surprise her on special occasions. Rose Mary was my best friend and a joy to be with. I will miss her but she will always be in my heart.

Jerry Wilson: Rose Mary was an absolutely compassionate darling, with a joyful, thoughtful, and caring soul, who always maintained a charmingly graceful magic about her character.  When she laughed her eyes would sparkle. Though she was frail, through the additional physical support she maintained from her folding shopping cart, she was a downtown cat caring institution, determined to persist by foot through all challenges of weather, traffic, and a labyrinth of city sidewalks and ramps to reach her localized circuit of destinations. She often restricted or limited physical assistance from friends, in order to pursue her #1 priority of locating and giving food, water, conversation, love, and a direct connection to veterinary care/ support (and cremations) for the homeless cats of Lavaca.

Her selfless and caring character is seriously mourned by: her neighborhood 'Village of Friends'; her extended North Central San Antonio 'Troupe of Friends'; her Feline Downtown ‘Kingdom of Friends’, as well as those who worked at and lived near the neighborhood circuit destinations she often visited like HEB on South Flores and the Family Dollar on S. Saint Mary's. She slowly slouched and shook her way along the downtown pathways with hope and pride to enable herself to provide for three locations of cats, twice a day until recently.  She actually was a living, mobile 'super hero' for the homeless cats of Lavaca. I can see her now, with her cart, and dozens of adoring cats, all cast in bronze as a memorial in a nearby, high visibility public space, adjacent to a sidewalk with a corner ramp.

Rose Mary's neighbor Rita introduced me to her many years ago, and we and our small group of friends and family would relish our times together, like a 'heart's club', at Rita's house, my place, visiting Rose Mary in her outdoor garden, fenced cat kingdom, or at downtown restaurants, or local outdoor events. We often shared delicious meals, delightful desserts, beverages, music, TV specials and movies during weekends, holidays and birthdays. Rose Mary would often comment how lucky she felt to have friends and neighbors who were always a joy for her to see and share some time with. Anywhere we were, Rosemary brought a wonderful time.

She often spoke fondly of her family in Arizona, the family across the street who often shared their delicious meals with her, the wonderful neighbors who live next door, her amazingly talented hairdresser, her eventful handyman/ gardener, her driver, and her kind hearted neighbors a block away who she'd known for many years and had helped take her to the veterinarian when a homeless cat was found to be sick, or had been killed by a car. She cherished her indoor cats Simone, Maow and one other who ran away after she passed.

We all miss and will always miss Rose Mary Budge. Such a beautiful, reassuring, vibrant, caring and kind spirit she was. If there are kittens in heaven, Rose Mary will find them, she will protect them, and she will show them what it means to have been loved.

Christine Becksted: She was a gentle, caring soul whose heart cared deeply for her neighbors as well as the stray cats in the community. Just a complete ray of sunshine who made a difference and will be missed.

Dawn Pedrazine: The world and particularly our neighborhood lost a beautiful lady. She received such unselfish joy from making life better for unwanted stray cats in our hood. You never doubted her sincerity when she asked, “How are you?” or “How is your mom?” Sweet lady, you will be missed and always remembered.

Marina Pisano: When Rose Mary joined the Express-News as fashion editor, the editor introduced her to all of us in Features with glowing words—all deserved. She brought years of experience with her from Utah. She was a meticulous reporter and engaging writer who filled the fashion pages with lively articles.

In later years at the paper, Rose Mary worked on senior issues with the same kind of dedication. Then, of course, she took up the issues of pet adoption and animal welfare that so many people associate with her. It might surprise some in the neighborhood to know that she began rescuing kitties while she was living in her apartment on Commerce Street. I think it was almost a calling for her.

She was always very private, very independent and we worried about her living alone in a house that needed work. When we offered help she always replied, "I'm fine. I'm fine." That was Rose Mary.

Rose Mary Budge was a beautiful person, inside and out.

Over the 30 years I knew her we grew very close and she really was more like a family member than a friend. She sat with me and my family at many holiday dinners sharing good food and conversation. That's why her passing is so heart-breaking for me. An empty seat at the table.

Rose Mary and her husband, Winters Budge, moved to San Antonio in 1989, when she took the position of Fashion Editor with the San Antonio Express-News. As they had in Salt Lake, the Budges lived downtown, within walking distance of her work. “Rose Mary never had any interest in driving. She preferred to walk and would take cabs when she needed to get somewhere outside of walking distance,” said Sydney.

Her husband died in late 2003, and the building on E. Commerce where they lived was scheduled for demolition. Rose Mary bought her house in Lavaca in 2005, and quickly became an important and beloved part of the neighborhood, as the memories by some of her neighbors and friends below will attest. There are many, many more who knew her and have lasting and invariably positive memories of this genuinely friendly yet fiercely independent woman.

Not surprisingly, I got to know Rose Mary via The Cannoli Fund. She and I worked together on trapping many of the cats in the three colonies she cared for, and I took them for spay/neuter and vaccinations. With the help of friends, especially for transportation, she had already provided this service for some of them. She knew all the cats who were regular residents of the colonies well and had named them, and she was alert for any newcomers in need of care. We both would get frustrated when — as often happens — there was one female in a colony who simply refused to be trapped, and would then have yet another litter. When we finally caught one especially elusive one, dubbed Ms. Spitty, we practically danced in the street!

One of my favorite memories involves six black and white kittens, all of whom were living in separate carriers in Rose Mary’s house in late 2017. She had cared for them after they lost their mom, but didn’t contact me until they were getting big and active enough to need larger accommodation and vet services. They then moved into my daughter’s casita where she cared for them until they could be spayed/neutered and adopted. Rose Mary had done an amazing job of socializing them, and thanks to another of her animal-care friends, five of the kittens were taken in by the Humane Society and quickly adopted. The sixth had been born with a deformed paw and had to have a front leg amputated. That cat, who Rose Mary had named Pirate, is perhaps the sweetest cat I’ve ever met, and was adopted by my daughter, who couldn’t bear to part with him! Every time I would see Rose Mary thereafter, she would ask about Pirate and, of course, was pleased that he was doing so well — not slowed down in the least by being a tripod, though never allowed outside!

The only time she would accept a ride anywhere was to take cats to the vet. During those trips, we even talked about things other than cats!

Following are memories that neighbors and close friends shared about Rose Mary. These are just a few of the lives she touched.

Mary Esther Ahumada: I first met Rose Mary when I worked at Macy’s. She was my customer and she always bought Estee Lauder. She was always so sweet and always had her hair done. Then she moved to our area.

We became close when we found out we both loved cats. We often exchanged stories, and two of her cats came to live with us. We laughed, and I told her she had visiting rights. We would also laugh because our cats would sometimes go eat at her house and hers would come to ours. She would say that the cats had a chance to decide which meal was better on any given day.

She was very independent, always walked everywhere and never wanted rides, unless it was to the vet.

We will always have a special place in our hearts for her. Her last words to me were, “Take care of my cats!” It will be an honor to be the caregiver to Rose Mary’s cats.

Gloria Cabrera: Rose Mary moved to the neighborhood in 2005, after her husband had died. She was always very cheerful and friendly, and I would walk across the street to talk with her almost daily. She rarely talked about herself, but she would always remember what was going on in our lives and ask follow up questions about us and our loved ones.

Of course, she was so passionate about cats. All of the cats she fed had names, and they knew her. Some of them would follow her down the street as she fed several nearby colonies.

She was also very thoughtful and enjoyed giving small treats to me and other neighbors. She always bought the special pumpkin bread from Guenther House for close neighbors at the holidays. I enjoyed taking food I prepared to her. We miss her so much.

Rose Mary caring for the neighborhood's cats (photo by Christine Becksted)

Nancy Diehl serves on the board and is a co-founder of the Cannoli Fund, a local non-profit that cares for dogs and cats in need of help in the King William and Lavaca neighborhoods.

She taught us what it meant to be a neighbor, and we hope to honor her memory by carrying on her neighborly ways.

The Wonderful Cat Lady of Lavaca

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

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