Kim Patterson ¡Presente!

A friend and mentor died on Sunday. Her name was Kim Patterson and she was amazing. I met Kim when I started working for the union in 2004. She was kind and smart and very different from a lot of the “guy” culture at the union. She was not my first lead. I was hired to administer the organizing database, but my lead recognized I could do more than that, so I started taking on local-wide responsibilities. That is when Kim became my lead.

I learned a lot from Kim, but one of the unexpected lessons came in recent years. Kim taught me that ambition is ok. This may seem weird for people not in social justice work, but I’ve always had the feeling that people who outwardly seek organizational authority are to be mistrusted. Almost every story I heard about someone getting to be in charge was couched in the idea of an accident. Here are a few examples:

  • The former president of SEIU told the story about his involvement happened because he went to a meeting that offered free pizza.
  • Directors saying all they wanted to do was organize and one day they became a lead. No plan, it just “happened.” They wish they could return to door knocking.
  • When someone gets a promotion it’s usually filled with tremendous self-deprecation and “I’m as surprised as you.”

It’s humility on steroids.  I’ve always been under the impression that a desire to have positional authority was never to be communicated.  After Kim retired, I had dinner with her in Philadelphia and posed the question, “how and why did you become an officer?”

Kim looked at me and said, “I wanted to make decisions. There was a small circle of people deciding the future of the union and I wanted to be one of them. I told them I wanted to be an officer.” There was no romantic story about stumbling into leadership. She owned the fact that she was a leader and wanted an appropriate position to effect change. We all benefited from that focus and determination. She wanted what was best for our union. It is the most honest answer I’ve ever heard about being staff in the labor movement.

Kim taught me that it was OK for a union to have nice things and for staff to have fun.  She made sure our union hall was not a grubby organizer den, but a place that made members proud.  She was insistent that the staff had fun on the holiday party and required the electric slide be on the playlist. Members and staff loved her because she reminded all of us that that work must be paired with smiles and laughter.  She loved life and it was that love of life that drove her fight against cancer these last 6 years.

Here are a few stories that make me smile when I am remembering Kim.

When I was leaving for Ecuador, Kim came into town to say goodbye. Dennis hosted a dinner and made octopus ceviche. He served us and announced, “I got extra tentacles.” The second he went inside, all of the tentacles were on my plate. She looked at me and said, “Not going to happen.”

Once, Kim, Sam, Cathy and I went to the horse races together. Kim and I were shocked when we arrived and Cathy bought the big guide and started talking about the superfecta and trifecta bets. To this day I have no idea what Cathy was doing, but we laughed at all of the betting nonsense.  I lost all my money shortly thereafter. Kim was smart enough to spend her money on ice cream.

Kim and Cathy were a great pair together because Cathy would do something ridiculous and Kim would call her out on it.

Kim: “Put on that seat belt, there’s a beep that won’t go off until you put it on.”
Cathy: “It goes off.”
Kim: “I road with you for 5 hours yesterday. It never went off.”
Cathy: “It went off.”
Kim: “It never went off.”

Repeat for 20 minutes or as long as the car ride allowed.

The last time we saw each other was the end of September. She came over to the house. We had pie, took some photos, and enjoyed each other’s company.   It’s not the last time I spoke to Kim, but it is the last time I saw her. Kim Patterson made me a better union staff person and she made the world better every moment she was in it.


Kim Patterson, Cathy Brady, Cooke Debruin, Dennis Short, Samer Badr, Anje Van Berkelaer, and Josh Ferris. September 30, 2018 




Cathy Brady ¡Presente!

On November 2, 2018, I delivered 1 of 3 eulogies at Cathy Brady’s funeral.  This is that eulogy.


Good morning.

Intergenerational friendships are are few and far between. Not many people get to have one and I am lucky enough to be one of those people. Cathy was 25 years older than me and we were friends. She would make me laugh as few could.

Cathy was an epic storyteller with a brilliant sense of humor. Everyone in the room has been with Cath at some point and heard a story from her that left you wide-eyed and smiling. “God, strike me if this isn’t true,” she started when she told me the story of a tower at BP exploding with concrete raining down around her and flames at her back.

Or the time she told me she rolled a 1000 meatballs on the eve of her wedding. I then told her about a vegetarian meatball winning a meatball contest. She responded with, “that’s a sin. They should win if it was a grain-ball contest. But not for meatballs” She wasn’t narrow-minded about much, but on the definition of meatballs, she was a purist.

I think that Cathy was a great storyteller because she experienced the world with such awe and wonder. Some of us can be cynical or pessimistic about the world, but never her. She was a grand lover of life. “Can you believe it? Of all the churches in all of Rome, I listened to opera in St. Catherine of Sienna’s,” she told me. Or, “There I was coming out of the stall and Stevie Nicks was going through her pocketbook at the sink. A complete mess,” she noted. She delighted in being surprised every day.

There are countless fantastic stories and there is no way I can do them justice. And I’m sure we all have them. I’d like you all to take a minute right now to think about one of those Cathy stories that you know. I am going to give you a moment of silence to draw up the memory. Looking for something that will make you laugh and put a smile on your face. [Pause for a few seconds.]

When you leave here today find someone and share that story.

Everyone here knows that Cathy Brady touched our lives. The loss of Cathy leaves an impossible hole for her children, her family, her friends, and her neighbors, to fill. I’d like to close thinking about how this loss affects 3 specific groups that may not be on your mind this morning.

First, I’d like to mention the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Without question, Cathy made them money. She once told me that visiting friends in Fishtown costs a minimum of $35. The PPA will feel this loss. However, I know that Cathy got the last laugh as I am sure that there is a stack of unpaid parking tickets buried in her pocketbook.

Secondly, I’d like to remember the junk dealers at Jerry’s Corner. Cathy would stop by that flea market regularly and buy things for all us. Whether we needed it or not. I didn’t even know a roadside flea market could stay open these days, but with her help, Jerry’s corner weathered the recession. Think of them the next time you need scented candles, an office chair, or a dining set for 12.

Finally, the grocers at the Taluttos Italian Grocery. Cathy only cooked with fresh pasta. I personally think she was keeping the Ridley Park branch afloat. Do yourself a favor and buy some fresh pasta from them sometime soon.

In all seriousness. Cathy Brady was my friend. She was a dear friend and every time I think about not seeing her again it tears my heart out. I will miss her for the rest of my life and I will tell her stories just a long. Thinking about her makes me laugh and smile and I hope you all can share in those memories with me.

Thank you.

Does Hoagie translate to Panini?

I love a story about Philadelphians. The people of my adopted city are the most lovable crazy people in the world. They love their city and culture with a vigor unparalleled in the world. One of my favorite parts about any conversation between Philadelphians is that it will turn toward strong opinions about food.

Here is a great anecdote from my time in Italy. Let me set the scene. We are in the small rural town of Castroregio having dinner in someone’s home. This is a vacation space they use in August. There are 4 Italian-Americans, 2 Midwesterners, and 3 Italians. All four of the Italian-Americans identify with Philadelphia in some way.  The only way to properly appreciate this dialogue it to try to read it aloud in 30 seconds or less.  If you can read it with a friend, speak over one another.

Italian-American (IA) #1: When making a hoagie you start by putting the oil on the roll.

IA #4, #3: Head shaking in disagreement.

Italian #1: What’s a hoagie?

IA #2: It’s a sandwich with meat and cheese on it.

Italian #1: Like a panini?

Midwestern #1: Sure

IA #4: Did you know that the hoagie was invented in southwest Philadelphia. The Hog Island shipyard was in southwest of Philadelphia along the Delaware River. Italian immigrants would take the leftover antipasti from dinner and put it on hard crusted roll for lunch at the shipyard the next day. People started calling the sandwich hoggies and it eventually became hoagies.

IA #1: You start by putting oil on the roll first!

Italian #1: (quietly) roll? (makes a burrito rolling motion)

Midwestern #1: (quietly) No, It just means bread.

Italian #1: nods

IA #1: Then you add the garlic salt to the lettuce.

IA #4: I don’t think so. I’ve never…

IA #2: Yeah, we call it Italian lettuce.

IA #4: appalled

IA #3: I like it with …

IA #1: You start with the oil first.

Italian #1: Stanno parlando di panini.

Italian #2: nods

IA #4: We add the oil last. It’s how you dress the lettuce.

IA #2: It’s a sandwich on a long piece of bread with meat, cheese, and vegetables.  It’s very good.  When you come to the United States we’ll get you some.

Italian #3: Like Subway.

The speed of the conversation is cover for ignoring this insult.

IA #4: I was known as the hoagie queen when I was younger. Come to Philadelphia and I’ll make you a great hoagie.

IA #1: I start with the oil on the roll, and then the meat, and the lettuce.

A similar conversation happened around the cheesesteak.   No, it is not a scallopini.  Yes, we are still discussing a sandwich.

Thelma and Louise made it.

It was a great trip. I loved taking my mom on her first big trip to Europe. It was great to follow Cathy Brady through her journey to find relatives. I must give myself credit, that pairing my mom’s first trip and Brady’s search for her roots was a great idea. The two of them got a long swimmingly, and it actually freed me up to be on vacation, and not focus on being a host.

There are plenty of funny moments, not recorded in this travel log. Whenever I think of the phrases “I don’t give a shit,” “The pizza/water/view is better in Italy,” or a debate  on the ease in which one can procure an unlicensed water taxi, I’ll think of this trip. It was a good time.

And let me finish with this story. I was the third and final member of our party to vomit. On my way home, American Airlines fed me a pepperoni pizza as a snack. It was horrible. Within 20 minutes I started to get a headache and a knot in my stomach. When I got into my house I rushed to the bathroom and vomited. This poor man’s hot pocket, was complete and utter garbage and it made me puke. Normally, I have an iron stomach and rarely vomit, but this piece of trash served to me as food was an embarrassment to the food pyramid. Hell, it wasn’t even on the pyramid, it should be in the gutter of the cistern below the pyramid. Foul. American Airlines, you are terrible.


DANGER! American Airlines pizza is microwaved food poisoning.

One last day in Italy

We woke up in Sorrento to enjoy the view and start packing our bags. Then terror struck. When we arrived home the night before, I put my camera bag down on the ground while I opened the gate. Can you guess what I did not do? Answer: I did not pick my camera bag up. I rushed to the entrance, but my camera bag was not there. I tore through the house looking for it, but it was nowhere to be found. I was sure that I forgot it outside. Genarro was at the house gardening, so I told him what I thought happened. The old coot, asked me if I had been drinking the night before. (Answer: No)

There’s one road that leads to the beach, so I thought I would jog down to see if anyone had picked it up. No luck. Of the few places that were open, none had seen my bag. As I started to jog back up the hill I remembered the keys to our rental car were in that bag.

The oncoming logistics nightmare came into realization and all I could do was run faster up the old cobblestone roman road. When I got back to Casa Peach, Genarro greeted me with wonderful news. The neighbor found my camera! He returned home around midnight and spotted my bag outside the gate. They grabbed it for safe keeping and returned while I was out looking. Crisis averted.

While we were leaving, we met the tenants who moved into the second house (Puolo Relax House). They were an Italian couple with their daughter vacationing for a week. The little girl spoke perfect English that she learned it all from Youtube! The parents are  attorneys in Naples, but the husband is a DJ on the side. This is a video he produced. His wife is the lead actress in the video.

We said good-bye to the new family and Genarro. I drove us out of Sorrento until we got to a highway and from there Cathy took over on the highway. We dropped our rental car off at the Rome airport and took a taxi into Rome. When we got to Rome, Cathy went to talk to a guide about the remainder of her trip, and Glenda and I got a hop-on hop-off bus. We only had a few good hours in Rome, so this seemed like the smartest way to give Glenda a taste of Rome.


Cathy, Genarro, and Glenda.

We hit many of the major places. The Colosseum, St. Peter’s square, Trevi fountain, the Imperial Forum, and finally the Spanish Steps. Glenda loved the Trevi fountain. This is also the spot we got gelato our first taste of gelato in Rome. I had hazelnut and it was delicious. We arrived at the top of the steps and met Cathy at the Barcaccia fountain at the base.


Glenda is checking out ancient Rome.

As soon as we arrived it started to rain pretty hard, which cut into the plan to wander the streets looking for that perfect final meal. We popped into Ristorante Piazza Italian Bistrot Roma that was near the steps. There was nothing fabulous about it, but I ordered the cacio e pepe and it was wonderful. My mom had the carbonara rigotoni and Cathy has a lasagna. We had a smoked salmon and arugula salad that was really good.
It was a long day and we quickly fell asleep in Bettoja Hotel Mediterraneo.

Conclusion: Thelma and Louise made it.