Frequent county critic uses his three minutes to honor Gretchen Kafoury

March 19, 2015

Joe Walsh at the March 19 board meeting.

The men arrive at the start of each Board of County Commissioners’ meeting; their faces so familiar that when one is missing, staff check in.

They’re activists determined, in their allotted 3 minutes during public comments, to shine the light on the lack of affordable housing, police practices and even their own physical ailments. Joe Walsh comes every week for Individuals for Justice. So does Lighting with Lighting Watchdog X, and Ben H. Pickering representing himself.

“We’re not sure how many are homeless people are out there but that’s one of the major things that needs to be fixed,” Pickering tells the board in a typical exchange.

“You had a presentation to do affordable housing but you would have to demolish current property,” says Lighting. “I want a little more caution as looking at that as affordable housing units with the intent to demolish them."

But this week’s audience didn’t include Board Chair Deborah Kafoury, who has taken time to mourn the loss of her mother, former county commissioner Gretchen Kafoury. In her absence, one of those consistently querulous voices cracked.

In her 30 years of public service Ms. Kafoury agitated relentlessly for affordable housing and equality.

Flags fly at half staff at the Multnomah Building in honor of former County Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury,
Flags fly at half staff at the Multnomah Building in honor of former County Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury.

“Her life is everything we’re fighting for,” said Joe Walsh, a Navy veteran and activist who attends the weekly meetings to offer his opinion on the business of the day. 

“We’re activists. We whine and complain and yell and scream. Our job is to push. We tell you what’s wrong and we don’t really talk about what’s going right,” he said. “Sometimes we forget to acknowledge the good stuff and we should celebrate her life.  She was one of my heroes. Her whole essence of equality and dignity.”

Walsh said he didn’t know Gretchen Kafoury, but they were born the same year - 1942 -- and he admired her work first as a legislator and then as a county commissioner.

“I didn’t know her personally. We didn’t have coffee or tea together, but I admired her,” he said. “We should honor her and remember what she fought for.”

He paused and then said, “Thank you, Gretchen, for all your work.”