Volume 79, Number 6 | July 15 - 21, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Katharine Roberts, 83; She was an outspoken stickler

By Albert Amateau 

Katharine Roberts, a former member of Community Board 4 and a Chelsea activist for peace, affordable housing and universal healthcare, died in St. Vincent’s Hospital on Sun., June 28, a day after her 83rd birthday after battling a short illness.

A stalwart member of the Chelsea Reform Democratic Club, she recently said that she feared the club was not remaining true to its progressive principles.

For a woman who spoke out against the first and second Iraq wars and in favor of core liberal programs, it’s hard to believe that she was once a Young Republican. But in her 20s she was president of the Young Republican Club in her hometown of Damariscotta, Maine, and served as a Maine delegate to the 1952 Republican National Convention that nominated Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Among the organizations in Chelsea to which she was devoted were New York Network for Action on Medicare and Social Security; Congress of Senior Citizens; Hudson Guild Senior Advocacy Committee; the Manhattan Borough President’s Senior Advisory Committee; New York Women Fighting Poverty, and the Joint Public Affairs Committee for Older Adults.

Kathy Kinsella, a former C.R.D.C. president, recalled first meeting Roberts through Chelsea For Peace, an antiwar group.

“She was one of the folks who introduced me to C.R.D.C., and she was dedicated to the issues on which she worked. She was a stickler for process and helped guide me on so many issues,” Kinsella said. Roberts helped found Chelsea Speak Out, which started in protest to the first Iraq War but later focused on affordable housing and other issues, Kinsella added.

“She was a smart, outspoken, dedicated and tireless worker for healthcare as a right for everyone and for countless other causes for peace and social justice,” said Assemblymember Richard Gottfried. “She was a dear friend.”

Frank Eadie, who served with her on Community Board 4, said Roberts was a great friend and ally. He called her “a typical Maine-New Yorker with always something to complain about,” and a person who always tried to act on her values, even when it was inconvenient.

Gloria Sukenick, a fellow C.R.D.C. member, said a short biography of her friend would be: “Katharine…determined…irritating…tough…angry — at the right things.” At C.R.D.C., “Katharine provided the irritation — like the grain of sand in an oyster — that might produce a pearl,” Sukenick said.

Carla Nordstrom, a friend, recalled that Roberts would often launch “into her latest annoyance with a politician, the war, housing or the 23rd St. bus, and I always agreed with her.” Nordstrom said she often thought, “These politicians wouldn’t have a chance if they had to face Katharine’s ire.”

Among her irritations was the misspelling of her first name with an “e” instead of an “a” in the middle.

She was born in Damariscotta, the daughter of Francis Cheney and Dorothy Erskine Roberts, and attended schools in Damariscotta, the North Yarmouth Academy in Maine and Waltham High School outside Boston.

Before moving to New York in the mid-1950s, where she lived first on Long Island, Roberts worked for the Lincoln County News, a weekly newspaper owned by her family in Damariscotta.

She was predeceased by her parents; as well as her sister, Dorothy McFadden; a brother who died in infancy, and by her former husband, Saul Girardi.

Her brother, Samuel E. Roberts, and his wife, Abbie, of Damariscotta, survive, as well as two nephews, one of whom now owns the Lincoln County News; five nieces, and several great- and great-great-grandnephews and nieces.

A private family memorial will be held in Damariscotta on Aug. 1, with a memorial in Manhattan to be announced later.

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