Gladys McCoy was elected to the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in 1978 and re-elected in 1982. In 1986, she was elected County Chair, and re-elected again before she died in 1993. She worked for Portland Head Start, which propelled her to run for public office. She was elected to the Portland School Board in 1970 and served two four-year terms. Some of her accomplishments include setting up a social service program in the former Columbia Villa housing development, working to stabilize County funding, expanding and meeting County affirmative action goals, increasing community participation in government, increasing minority representation on County boards and commissions, and standardizing the County’s charitable contribution program.
For this, and more, we honor her legacy by giving the Gladys McCoy Award to someone in Multnomah County who models Ms. McCoy’s ideals. The 2019 recipient of this award is Faye Burch.
Faye Burch comes from a family of socially engaged women. Her grandmother was involved in a little bit of everything: Daughters of the Elks and the Eastern Star, the Oregon Association of Colored Women.
Her parents, Beatrice and F.L. Gordly, had three children. Faye’s sister, Avel, went on to serve in the Oregon House of Representatives and as the first African American in the state Senate. Their brother, Tyrone, served in the U.S. Air Force and settled on Long Island, New York.
Growing up in Northeast Portland, Faye’s parents couldn’t buy a home. A white family friend purchased one for them and carried a private loan. When Avel and Faye were still girls, the house caught fire. Her parents secured a loan to repair the home, but the bank told them who would do the work and how much they would pay.
“There was a lot of things that prevented people of color from buying homes. Banks would lend you money to buy a Cadillac, but when you were buying things to settle down, they wouldn’t invest in you,’’ she said.
Later the family home became the headquarters for the Portland African American Leadership Forum.
Faye said she doesn’t recall a time when she wasn’t socially engaged. That was just how her family was. “It seems like it was always there,” she said. “I would always find a cause.”
She worked on civil rights issues with the NAACP and Urban League of Portland. When she worked at Pacific Bell right out of college, she organized an African American history and Martin Luther King Jr. education program for employees. Oregon State Legislator Margaret Carter attended one of the presentations and asked Faye to come work for her.
Together with Sen. Margaret Carter, Faye pushed through legislation establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Oregon. Later she worked for Gov. Barbara Roberts and helped Sen. Bill McCoy establish the Oregon Office of Minority Women and Emerging Small Businesses.
Faye has known the Gladys and Bill McCoy family longer than she can remember. Gladys was especially supportive of her political activism.
“She was very kind, very introspective. She took time for everyone. She knew everyone in the community. She’d have a way of telling you she expected things of you.”
Gladys McCoy championed Avel Gordly running for office. But Faye preferred working in the background to seeking elected office.
“I was really good about telling other people they should run. I’m an organizer. I like organizing and research more,” Faye said. “You can look back and see the difference you made, to change a law, an ordinance.”
She spent two legislative sessions refining and furthering the work of Minority Women and Emerging Small Business programs, including for Multnomah County.
“I care about causes and I care about people, about minority businesses. That was a big one. The way in which they were pushed to the end of the line, they had such a lack of support,” she said. “So the thing I’ve enjoyed is coordinating contractors to work on good causes.”
Today, Faye spends time with her two grandchildren, ages 11 and 13. But she has no plans of retiring from her community activism or her work on behalf of minority-owned businesses. She recently published a report that called on government and other large employers to close a loophole that allows more than 90 percent of contracts to flow to white-owned businesses.
It’s a fight she’d like others to join.
“We can all do this,” she said. “We just have to have the interest, to want to right wrongs and do the best we can to participate in those things.”