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Kathleen Kitty Gurnsey


1927 - 2015 Obituary Condolences
Kathleen "Kitty" Gurnsey
June 23, 1927 ~ June 1, 2015
Kitty Gurnsey, an Idaho legislator for 22 years, died in the early hours of June 1, 2015 from the effects of Alzheimer's disease. She is survived by her three children, Kris (Ted Johnson); Steve (Connie Rea); and Scott; and two of her sisters, Shirley Lappens, and Beverly Montgomery (John). In addition, she has five granddaughters, Clare, Alice, and Emma Johnson, and Nicole Gurnsey Hodgson (Brian) and Lisa Gurnsey Blair (Ben); as well as four great grandsons. She was preceded in death by her husband, Vern; her brothers, Bobby and Dave; and her sister, Mary Jeane Jones.
Born June 23, 1927 at her grandparents' ranch near Donnelly in Long Valley, she was the third of Thelma and Bob Wallace's six children. According to her sister Shirley, Kitty was a force from the start, always capable of going her own way. Through the Depression, her family ran a dairy business. Helping with milking, separating and delivering kept all the family busy, but they never went hungry, even in the hardest times. At ten she learned to drive her grandfather's car, driving along the ditches to give him a ride home from irrigating. At 14, she got her first job, helping at Ralph and Mary McDougal's Grocery Store in town. By age 16, Ralph trusted her to run the store by herself when he was busy or needed to be gone for hunting season. She later said Ralph "taught me there was little I couldn't do", a conviction that served her well through a remarkable life. Through high school she played forward on the basketball team for the girls' games and then switched into her cheerleader uniform to cheer for the boys. Kitty remembered learning to ignore the opposing teams' mean remarks about her sturdy legs when they attempted to distract her as she was shooting baskets. She said that skill of being able to ignore served her well against hostile comments from adversaries in her legislature years.
While working for the Forest Service in McCall, she met her future husband, Vern, when he came in to file a complaint on behalf of his employer, Boise Payette Lumber Company. He asked Kitty out on the spot and she cancelled another date to spend time with the dark-haired, up-and-coming young forester with a convertible. They were married May 7, 1950, had Kris (Kristina) in 1952, and moved to Boise in 1953. Steve came in 1954, and in 1957, Scott was born soon after they moved to their home in a brand new subdivision called the Highlands.
Shortly after they arrived in Boise, taking one night class each semester, Kitty began her 20 year quest for a college degree, studying at Boise Junior College as it evolved into Boise State University. Ultimately, Boise State became one of her favorite causes, and its library now houses her legislative papers in their Kitty Gurnsey Collection. Also in these years, while raising three kids as Vern often traveled for work, she began volunteering for a variety of Boise's civic organizations, laying the foundation for her legislative career. As a result of her hard work for numerous charities, in 1970 The Idaho Statesman named her one of Boise's Distinguished Citizens. She also found time for skiing, bridge, and golf as well as transporting kids to their various activities.
In 1974, at a time when few women held political office, Kitty made her first successful bid for a seat in the Idaho House of Representatives. In 1976, just as Scott graduated from high school, Kitty finished her degree in Business Administration. For the next 22 years in the Idaho Legislature, she worked hard to represent her constituents of District 19, eventually serving as co-chair of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. One House Speaker quipped, "She runs the state budget like it's her own checkbook." Then Governor Phil Batt said, "She doesn't mind standing up to anyone...she is willing to compromise when it's a reasonable process, but not on principles." Kitty always supported women's causes and was proud that, over her tenure, the number of women in the legislature rose from 9 to 29 of 105 seats, a ratio that continues to this day. As a moderate Republican, she worked well with members of both parties, but always with a balanced budget in mind. In the early 80's the state faced a 70 million dollar deficit. When she retired in 1996, there was a 65 million dollar surplus.
After retirement, she continued to serve Idaho, including time on the State Humanities Board and the Idaho Pharmacy Board. She also enjoyed her bridge club of over 50 years, travel with Vern, playing with granddaughters, and golfing with friends. Until almost the end, when asked how she was doing, she replied with a grin, "Pretty damned good for an old girl."
A memorial service celebrating Kitty's remarkable life will be held at Boise's First Presbyterian Church at the end of July or the start of August.
In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to one of the following charities or to a : Shelton Foundation Scholarship Fund -c/o Idaho Community Fund, 210 W. State St., Boise, Idaho 83702; the Idaho Food Bank, 3562 S TK Avenue, Boise, Idaho 83705-5278; Planned Parenthood of Idaho, 3668 N Harbor Lane, Boise, Idaho 83703; Idaho Commission on the Arts, 2410 Old Penitentiary Road, Boise, ID 83712; or Idaho Humanities Council, 217 W. State Street, Boise, ID 83702., .
Memories and condolences may be shared with the family on Kitty's memorial webpage at www.summersfuneral.com.
Published in Idaho Statesman on June 6, 2015
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