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Kissing crossing guard of Lawrenceville: ‘Life’s too short to be petty’

November 29, 2018

Cathy Gamble makes crossing a busy Pittsburgh street memorable.

A Pittsburgh city crossing guard for more than 18 years, Gamble works the intersection of 44th and Butler streets in Lawrenceville.

These days, she spreads happiness and goodwill. Tragedy struck her life in 1986, when her husband, Bill, died in a flood.

“Our son, Bill Jr., kept me going,” Gamble said. “I was left with a precious 5-year-old to raise.”

After the loss she realized, “Life’s too short to be too petty.”

Now, she blows kisses of love to people on the street.

Gamble credits her single mom experience with enhancing her nurturing instincts, which she utilizes daily with the more than 80 school-aged children she helps across the street.

Even local Pittsburgh area celebrities aren’t immune to her whistle, which is Gamble’s attention-getting, crossing guard “go-to” tool when pedestrians are busted jaywalking.

Sidney Crosby once attempted to cross her corner with his parents in tow, against the light, she recalled.

“I blew my whistle and shouted, ‘You might be the king on ice, but I’m the queen of the crossing,’” Gamble hollered to Crosby.

They all shared a laugh. Crosby then crossed at the proper time as instructed.

Working year-round in all elements, Gamble said fall is her favorite season because the children return to school. She enjoys welcoming them back and meeting the new arrivals.

“Cathy goes above and beyond,” said Lawrenceville resident and mom Eva Smulski-Linka. “Some guards do the minimal -- Cathy gives 300 percent.”

Gamble has crossed non-humans, too.

There was the mama duck with her ducklings in tow; another time there were several deer, which Gamble creatively turned into a reindeer/Christmas story for her students.

“The kids really believed me when I said, ’See -- I told you that you better behave because Santa is close by and will be watching you,” Gamble said. “Life’s too short not to have some fun in it -- especially when you have wee ones who need nurturing.”

Gamble often hands out candy to pedestrians during Halloween, even recruiting her brother as Santa to hand out treats as Gamble leads the neighborhood children singing carols.

“I like to personalize my job,” Gamble said, “and giving out nicknames to my corner people means they are special to me, which they are.”

Although she has fun at her job, she doesn’t forget to perform it.

Her biggest crossing challenge these days?

“The distracted drivers -- the texting,” she said. “It’s bad.”

Describing her crossing style as “Happy Free Style,” she takes artistic liberties by adding improvised hand, arm and facial movements.

“I add a generous helping of whistle, too,” Gamble said.

She brags up Pittsburgh daily to tourists visiting popular Lawrenceville and her local residents, too.

Heather Knupp of Larimer works on Butler Street. She says Gamble is a true community asset.

“She is happy, perky and kind,” Knupp said. “She puts a smile on your face, and she’s like a mom, really: always telling people to have a nice day and be safe.”

A proud lifelong Pittsburgher, Gamble, who is 59, plans to continue her crossing guard duties until she turns 62.

“That’s Social Security time,” she said.

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