The preservation community recently lost one of our best with the passing of Cathy Galbraith in Portland, Oregon. I only met Cathy a few times, but her reputation as a leader and a fighter transcended her work in Oregon—she was a source of inspiration to preservation leaders everywhere, including me.
Perhaps best known as the founding director of the Bosco-Milligan Foundation, Cathy grew it from a start-up that collected and protected decorative architectural elements saved from the demolitions of Portland’s iconic historic buildings to a powerful local advocate for preserving not only whole buildings but also entire neighborhoods. Through the foundation, Cathy was advocating for the protection of African American neighborhoods long before many of her peers.
Cathy was dedicated, tireless, passionate, and relentless. She was both invincible and impatient to see things happen—places saved, repurposed, revitalized. Cathy has also been described as courageous and even heroic. She was someone who spoke up, presenting her views frankly, but also respectfully; in return, she earned respect for herself and her organization.
Although diminutive in size, Cathy loomed large among her peers. Meeting her for the first time could be intimidating, but she quickly put people at ease with her warmth, humor, and encouragement. Her deep understanding of the preservation movement, combined with her political acumen and commitment to community, made her a role model for many. She was fierce but fair and driven by an unwavering commitment to preserving historic buildings, sites, and neighborhoods.
Anthony Veerkamp, director of policy development for the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Research & Policy Lab, says that Cathy’s best quality was her authenticity. “Authenticity is hard to explain,” he said, “but we know it when we see it, and Cathy had it in spades. And as we all deeply feel with her passing, Cathy is irreplaceable. Committed preservationists like Cathy don’t come along every day, and we are all extremely fortunate to be the beneficiaries of her passion.”
Barbara Pahl is the senior vice president for Field Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Read more about Cathy's life from the Architectural Heritage Center or Historic Seattle.