Portland lost a journalism titan on Friday.
Kathie Durbin, 68, a longtime Portland-area journalist and author, died March 15 of cancer.
I sat next to Kathie at The Columbian in Vancouver for two years. She’d already worked at WW in the late ‘70s, for the Eugene Register-Guard, and for The Oregonian for 16 years.
When I met her, I'd been in the journalism game for just three years. She’d been a reporter for more than 10 times as long as long as I had, yet her drive to get the story—diet and after-work obligations be damned—blew my mind.
When busy giving Washington state’s politicians hell, she’d grab a box of her favorite Mike and Ike’s and set to work. She took the time to get the whole story, often throwing exasperated editors' space constraints to the wind.
She didn’t suffer fools lightly, be it another reporter, an editor or a politician. Kathie would pick up a charge and run with it, no matter who was trying to stop her. She showed me how to stand up for myself, and—perhaps the most important thing in journalism—to not give up.
WW publisher Richard Meeker says he remembers that Kathie won an award for a story on Title IX in the late 70s. As she took the stage to accept it, Meeker says he overheard former Gov. Tom McCall, seated at a table nearby, comment that WW reporters “were piranhas, always looking for blood.”
“Kathie wasn’t known to exude a beaming smile," Meeker says, "but when I told her McCall said that, she just beamed."
Doug Babb, who met Kathie at WW in 1977 and was her partner for 25 years, says that even in her final weeks, she was determined to make her deadlines. She has been working on her last book, The Columbia River Gorge: Bridging a Great Divide, scheduled to be published by OSU Press. (Environmental reporting, particularly her outstanding work covering the spotted owl controversy for The O in the early 90s, was her true passion).
A month ago, Babb says, the doctors told her there was nothing more they could do for her.
“She asked all the family to leave, she shut the door to visitors and for two days, in the hospital, completed her book,” Babb says. “She worked on the last three chapters and delivered them to the publisher. She said, ‘Now that’s a real deadline.’ And that’s Kathie.”
Kathie, true to her tenacious form, spent her last days writing her own obituary:
Kathie Durbin (Amy Kathleen Durbin), daughter of August L. “Buss” Barton and Fern Monteith Barton, died March 15, 2013 after a long battle with cancer. She was 68. She is survived by her daughters Audrey, Brenda, and Stefanie; a brother, Dennis Barton of Stanwood, Washington; a sister, Elyse Myers of Eugene, Oregon; two nephews; and two nieces.
Kathie was born in Eugene and lived in Oregon for most of her life. She graduated from South Eugene High School in 1962 and married James Cole Durbin that year. She attended Lane Community College and graduated from the University of Oregon School of Journalism in 1975.
Kathie was an award-winning environmental journalist who worked at the Eugene Register-Guard, Willamette Week, The Oregonian and The Columbian of Vancouver, Wash. In the course of her career, Kathie wrote three books: Tree Huggers, Tonga’s, and the forthcoming The Columbia River Gorge: Bridging a Great Divide. A poet and an avid traveler, Kathie loved the Pacific Northwest.
Her funeral will be held Sunday, March 24 at 3:00 p.m. at Holman's Funeral Home, 2610 SE Hawthorne St.