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.