Kate Sheaffer, a longtime associate who helped bring national attention to the Kettering Foundation’s work, died at a Hospice in Calvary Hospital in New York City Monday, November 3, after a long battle with cancer. She had been a prominent part of the KF family for more than 30 years.
“Kate was an indispensible member of our team who communicated the foundation’s work to key leaders–policymakers, the news media and public relations specialists–in Washington and across the country,” David Mathews, foundation president said. “Her intelligence, savvy, humor, and grace under pressure were admired and valued by all of us who had the privilege to know and work with her.”
Well acquainted in Washington, she worked closely in 1984 with Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman vice presidential candidate representing a major American political party. She later planned trips and other major events for President Bill Clinton and then First Lady Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Colleagues recalled that she worked quietly and effectively with both Democrats and Republicans. She provided nonpartisan staffing for presidential debates since 1976 and helped prepare Sen. John McCain for the debates in 2008.
For National Issues Forums (NIF), she arranged briefings in the White House, before Congress, at the Department of Education, before Vice President Al Gore’s workgroup on reinventing government, and at the National Press Club.
Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, Connecticut Congressman Christopher Shays, Maryland Congressman Elijah Cummings, Secretary of State Madeline Albright, and journalists David Broder, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, and Dan Balz are just a few of the national figures who were introduced to NIF and the NIF network through Kate’s work.
An associate with Public Agenda, she worked on Health Vote ’82 in Des Moines, Iowa, an early effort in public deliberation. A year later, she worked on School Vote in Philadelphia, a Public Agenda project.
In the 1980s, Kate worked with KF senior associate Bob Kingston and Public Agenda’s board and staff on Public Summit ’88, a national citizen discussion on U.S.-Soviet relations and the nuclear arms race. Under Kate’s leadership, citizens in Baltimore, Nashville, San Antonio, and Seattle participated in public forums weighing four alternative visions for the future of U.S.-Soviet relations. At the end of the project, some 76,000 citizens returned questionnaires giving their insights.
With the Kettering Foundation, Kate’s finest hour may have been bringing “Citizens and Politics: A View from Main Street America,” a KF report prepared by The Harwood Group, to public attention. Harwood’s research concluded that there was a widespread public reaction against the political system. The reaction was perceived as so autonomous that the public was no longer able to control and direct it.
“Citizens and Politics” was published in June 1991 and served as background for the 1992 presidential election campaigns. Thanks in large part to Kate’s good work, this report may have received more national attention than any other KF publication.
Colleagues noted that Kate loved travel and all things French. KF associate John Doble said Kate “spent a great deal of her time in her beloved Paris, a city she loved more than any place in the world.”
Jean Johnson, senior fellow and special advisor for Public Agenda and longtime friend, recalled Kate as “the supreme professional–knowledgeable, meticulous, patient, and diplomatic. If you were working with Kate, you could be absolutely certain that your project was in good hands. But Kate was also warm, funny, and caring, and she was passionate about making our country a better place.”
Kate came from a large family. She is survived by two sisters: Janine Sheaffer Johnson (Dan) and Chris Sheaffer (Connie Miller), and three brothers: Larry Sheaffer (Ellen), Peter Sheaffer (Karen) and John Sheaffer (Tim Baake).
Those who would like to remember and honor Kate may make contributions in her name to her much-loved and oft-visited Carl Schurz Park on Manhattan’s East River. A lifelong gardener, Kate took great pleasure and found continual solace in the park’s beautiful flowers and elegant river walk. Contributions may be sent to:
The Carl Schurz Conservancy
1483 York Avenue #20523
New York, NY 10075-8819
Phone: 212-459-4455 / Fax: 212-202-3739
Please mark checks sent to the Conservancy: “In Honor of Kate Sheaffer.”