Tribute to Kathryn Gilje

April 13, 2023
Ogonnaya Dotson Newman

I first met Kat at a meeting in Houston, TX. We sat next to each other in a session that highlighted the need for philanthropy to show up in a way that was supportive of folks fighting for their lives. I do not use this phrase lightly or as hyperbole - often when visiting places where folks are talking about their life long unfunded work to protect their communities, homes, and culture it is not an understatement when someone says they are fighting for their lives – but the dynamics of white supremacy culture and wealth inequity can impact our ability to fully empathize, resulting at times in people with more privilege failing to gully grasp and assuming a level of hyperbole.

So, often when we hear it, this simple phrase is an important invitation to a funder about how to treat a potential grantee with care. During my first conversation with Kat, I learned that she had already received, internalized and RSVPed to that invitation, and I was struck by the care she used in her grantmaking with the Ceres Trust.

Over time, I learned more about her as a human – the love she shares with her partner, family and extended circle, her activism in her personal life as a queer person living with disability. Her reflective nature, ability to hold the many contradictions of our sector, and an overwhelming desire to find joy in the many aspects of life. Kat has been an invaluable member of the HEFN Steering Committee, where she recently rejoined for a short stint when we were short on members. I am excited to observe her in the next phase of her philanthropic life as she transitions off the HEFN Steering Committee. Cheers to Kat and thank you for pushing HEFN to become a funder network reconciling with the history of philanthropy while carefully strategizing to move the organization into the future that we deserve.

Thank you, Kat, for your contributions to HEFN and the field of Environmental Health philanthropy.

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