Multco remembers former Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury

March 18, 2015

Former Commissioner Gretchen Kafoury with her daughter, Chair Deborah Kafoury, at the Chair's public swearing in at the Multnomah County Midland Library on June 9, 2014.

A memorial service for Gretchen Kafoury will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 4 at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 1126 S.W. Park Ave. in Portland.

Ms. Kafoury, 72, served as the District 2 Commissioner representing Northeast Portland between 1985 and 1990. She is the mother of Chair Deborah Kafoury.

Gretchen Kafoury was a former three-term legislator and working as the human services coordinator for the city of Portland when she was elected to the Multnomah County Board.

As commissioner, she continued her legislative priorities of health care and mental health care while adding criminal justice, homelessness and school-based health centers to the list.

She was also, The Oregonian wrote, “a lightning rod of activism.’’ Nine days after taking office in January 1985, she marched on the office of the South African consul in Portland to protest apartheid.

Within three months, she spearheaded a controversial resolution to ban discrimination in county hiring on the basis of sexual orientation. As someone who lobbied for gay rights bills during the 1973 Legislature only to see them fail by a few votes, she strategically pursued a county ban by resolution - instead of by ordinance - in order to ensure the measure survived.

As a Multnomah County commissioner, she championed the needs of young people, helping to bring county services for pregnant and drug- and alcohol-affected teens to east Multnomah County neighborhoods. She oversaw the opening of a primary care health center at Roosevelt High School in 1986, the first of what would become 13 school-based health clinics.

In 1988, after the Metropolitan Human Rights Commission awarded her the Russell A. Peyton Award, The Oregonian noted: “As a county commissioner, she has worked to increase county funding for pre-natal care for low-income women, established Portland’s first teen health clinic in Roosevelt High School and established primary prevention programs to help attack drug and alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy. Recently, she initiated a county funding program to help people with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.”

She also worked to strengthen public safety and prevent crime. The Oregonian’s Editorial Board wrote that it was “Gretchen Kafoury’s leadership” that was responsible for the funding of the first-ever prosecutor devoted to gang issues in 1988.

She advocated for the construction of new dorms at Inverness Jail and additional residential treatment for drug- and alcohol-addicted inmates, and was a key supporter of the forest work camp and restitution center.

She also voted to transform the private Library Association of Portland into the Multnomah County Library system.

As a young woman, Gretchen Kafoury had campaigned for Robert F. Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign, “galvanized,’’ she said, by idealism. She became an advocate of gun control after his assassination. In March 1990, Commissioner Kafoury cast the deciding vote to enact the first local gun control ordinance in Oregon.

By then, she had also announced she would not seek re-election to the Board. She was then elected to the Portland City Council that May, where she served from 1991 until 1998. She went on to teach at Portland State University and serve as a commissioner for the Housing Authority of Portland, now Home Forward.