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Catonsville advocate for the environment battles cancer

CancerChristmasTom Quirk

As a man actively involved in the community for years, it's difficult for Kit Valentine to sit in the large brown recliner he has named "King Tut."

But that's the only way he's able to get any relief from the constant pain in his back.

The Catonsville native, a determined advocate for the environment, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December.

He's currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments that make it impossible to walk along the trails in the area that he's helped to maintain for years.

"I don't have energy to do much," he said, sitting in his living room with his wife of 52 years, Becky.

The 72-year-old Catonsville resident currently serves as vice president of Patapsco Heritage Greenway, formerly called Friends of Patapsco Valley and Heritage Greenway.

Despite his condition, Valentine remains active in the community. He still attends meetings and makes phone calls from home, though he admits he'd rather be spending his time outside.

Since 1992, he has taken on a leading role with Patapsco Heritage Greenway, a nonprofit that works to preserve the undeveloped Patapsco Valley between Daniels and Elkridge.

"Kit Valentine is one of the most influential and active volunteers to help jump-start the Patapsco Heritage Greenway's stream watch program," said Betsy McMillion, director of restoration and education programs at Patapsco Heritage Greenway.

As former president of the organization, Valentine was instrumental in obtaining grant funding from Baltimore County for a part-time coordinator to run the stream watch program, McMillion said.

The program is composed of volunteers who monitor streams in the lower Patapsco River watershed area for pollution.

While he's been with the group, its volunteers have removed nearly 350 tons of trash and debris from the Patapsco Valley, Valentine said.

Valentine also serves as an honorary board member of Catonsville Rails to Trails, another local nonprofit that promotes a healthy lifestyle through hiking and biking along what were once the routes of railroads and streetcars in the Catonsville area.

"He's put his whole life into it. He's a real advocate for nature, trails and the environment," said Maureen Sweeney Smith, executive director of Rails to Trails.

Sweeney Smith said she was devastated to hear the news that Valentine was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

"I miss him so much when we have cleanup days," Sweeney Smith said.

Sweeney Smith said his upbeat personality and concern for the community make him a joy to be around.

As a member of both organizations, Valentine said his goal is to enhance the community for future generations.

"Kit has made a huge difference for southwest Baltimore County. He has been a tireless advocate for protecting and cleaning up the environment," said 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, an advocate for increasing the use of bicycles and pedestrian-friendly paths.

A retired lieutenant colonel, Valentine spent 25 years in the Army, where he worked as an artilleryman and an environmental engineer. He served two tours in Vietnam during the war.

When he retired from the military, he began teaching ninth grade at St. Timothy's Church School on Ingleside Avenue.

He said his active role in the community stems from his involvement with the Eagle Scouts as a kid growing up in Catonsville.

It's a role that changed suddenly last fall when Valentine discovered he had pancreatic cancer after undergoing a hip replacement surgery. After the surgery in November, he thought everything would be "hunky dory."

Yet it turned out the pain he felt in his side was actually a tumor in his pancreas.

There are usually three options for treatment — surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.

His doctor told him that surgery, the most promising way to eradicate the cancer, wasn't an option.

"This year, because of Kit's health issues, we thought this could be his last Christmas," Becky said.

The couple usually celebrates the holiday with their family before Dec. 25 and celebrates Christmas Day quietly together.

But this past Christmas was different in the house on Pleasant Drive with the numerous framed photos of family members on the walls.

Their four children and nine of their 10 grandchildren spent Christmas Day at their house.

Because Kit wasn't feeling well enough to sit or stand up, his children and grandchildren took turns sitting with him.

"That was pretty special for you, wasn't it?" Becky said to her husband, who began to tear up.

The two were high school sweethearts. They both graduated from Catonsville High School and married shortly after at St. Timothy's Church, while Kit was a student at the University of Montana.

The couple said the support they've received from family and neighbors has helped their morale.

"That's what keeps me going," Kit said.

Taking care of her sick husband and her 102-year-old mother, who lives with them, has been difficult for Becky Valentine.

But, she said, the many kind gestures from neighbors after they found out her husband was sick, have meant a lot.

Neighbors have brought over meals, shoveled snow from the sidewalk, and brought their trash can up from the curb.

"It was amazing that folks that have heard, either directly or indirectly, have been so supportive," she said.

Two weeks ago, Valentine met with a doctor who gave him the good news that surgery is now an option for him.

"We're cautiously optimistic at this point," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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