March was Women’s History Month. At The Gathering Place, we celebrated the month, in part, by recognizing the countless gifts that various women have made over the years, as well as the injustices we have, and continue, to endure. Our social media has reported about topics such as the gender pay inequity, the lack of research about the needs of women, and we have noted particular women and industries that are making improvements in all of our lives. Sadly, in every single case, whatever injustice that occurred for white women was double for women of color. It’s been an enlightening month – at times hopeful, and at times discouraging. Meanwhile, in our midst, we recently learned that one of our greatest supporters, staunchest advocates, and most effective leaders, was struggling.
Indeed, the world lost a great soul in this month of women’s history, with the passing of Kathryn Bates Gavin, a member of the Board of Directors of The Gathering Place from 1993-1996, a dear friend, and mentor of mine, and a woman who stands tall in the annals of women who made significant contributions to bettering the lives of others. Kathryn was one of those women who spent a lifetime making it more likely that the rest of us would survive, and that we would learn to respect each other. She was a model of courtesy, kindness, and integrity, and I am grateful that I had the honor of knowing her.
I believe that Kathryn initially connected to TGP in her role with the Denver Links. As I recall, the Links came to do a program for our members on Martin Luther King Day. Kathryn might have even been president of the Links at the time. It’s hard to identify the precise reason why, but Kathryn and I liked each other from the start. Conversation with her was easy, and we quickly ascertained that we were simpatico when it came to politics. Not only did we feel much the same, but we both enjoyed a rousing political discussion. The Gathering Place needed someone like Kathryn – a person with conviction, experience, and relationships outside of our normal circle. To my great delight, she agreed to be on our Board of Directors, and in 1996 we asked her to serve as Chair. Unfortunately, her health had taken a turn for the worse, and she did not feel like she could meet the demands of a proper Board Chair, so she withdrew, and she and I resolved to stay in touch. More than most people, I knew that Kathryn meant it, and I have been blessed to have called her my friend ever since.
Like many friends, we had periods of time when we didn’t see each other, and then we would get together, and it would seem as if nothing had changed. For the last several years, our “get-togethers” consisted of me going to her home. She would have lunch brought in, and we would sit at her dining room table and talk for hours. It was always an afternoon with Kathryn – a time set aside for me to learn, to listen, and to be with someone who had life experiences different from mine; yet, we always seemed to find common ground.
In the late 1990s, we spoke often of our mothers, and the complicated relationships we had with them. At various points, I heard about Kathryn’s life during the Civil Rights era: stories that gave me insight into her courage, and my own privilege. Stories I didn’t know. About Medgar Evers, and houses burning, and the Tougaloo Nine. We spoke about poverty, about law enforcement, art, travel, and of course, local, and national politics. When Barack Obama was elected President, Kathryn was the first person I wanted to talk to, and we did laugh, and rejoice at progress.
Kathryn brought history to life for me. She was deeply concerned that young people would forget the struggles of the Civil Rights era, and that white people like me would never connect, or recognize our piece. She worried that we would all forget how hard people fought, and how worthwhile the battles were, and how far we still have to go to combat racism. Kathryn never lectured me; rather, she nudged me. And nudged me, and nudged me to think a little different, to open my mind, to be wrong, to be thoughtful, and to be humble.
Our conversations made me a better person, and a better director. I cannot think of a time when she offered advice, but she listened intently. Through her own stories, she helped me find my way through countless challenges at The Gathering Place. I often tried to model her style of grace, of staying connected, and of listening without judgment. From Kathryn, I learned the value of giving to people even if you don’t know them. She was the person who saw a sad story in the newspaper, so sent a card. From Kathryn, I learned that networks and resources matter. If someone was in need, Kathryn called up what she knew, and who she knew, so that she could make progress on a resolution. She was relentless, and I never wanted to let her down. She inspired me to always, always try.
So while Women’s History Month is over, Kathryn will remain with us forever. She is with us every time we remember where we came from, every time we face our battles, lick our wounds, and celebrate our accomplishments. She is with me every time I become involved with fighting injustices, big and small. I will draw on her memory when I need courage and power. I will think of her words, and her graciousness when I need kindness and humility. The entire community at The Gathering Place mourns her loss because she made me – and all of us - greater than we could have ever been.
Click here for Kathryn Sue Bates Gavin's full obituary.