by IAF Co-Director Mike Gecan
Pat with Ryan Elfeld
Pat Oettinger is retiring after more than 40 years of exemplary service as a parish leader, QCO president, and Metro IAF administrator. There's not better way to describe Pat's start with the IAF and organizing than to read this vignette from Greg Pierce who, like Pat, has figured out how to play various critical roles and make a series of remarkable contributions to our network over that same period:
"Pat Oettinger was the parish secretary of Resurrection Ascension Catholic Church in Rego Park, New York City, when I arrived as the lead organizer of the Queens Citizens Organization (QCO) in the late 1970s. I remember she was instinctively conservative and skeptical about the entire organizing effort, but I knew if she ever bought in to organizing she would bring her entire parish and, indeed, the rest of Queens behind here. Soon she was president of the organization!
Pat with her favorite past-time, great-grandson Will
"One time, when Mario Cuomo was still Lieutenant Governor of New York State, he promised to set up a meeting for QCO with the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the monolithic and unaccountable government institution set up by Robert Moses to do his public projects. But Cuomo had failed to do so and time was running out. Pat and some of the other QCO leaders wrote a one-page "accountability report" announcing that Cuomo had failed to do what he had promised. We sent it to Cuomo and told the future Governor we would distribute 50,000 copies of the report through all our member institutions the following weekend. Instead, Cuomo showed up at the Resurrection Ascension rectory (where Pat was working) that Friday, to prove to her that he had done what he had promised. The "accountability report" was never distributed.
"Pat and I and the QCO leaders all learned an important lesson in power that day. The question we asked ourselves before our subsequent actions was always the same: Where's the tension? If there wasn't any, we added it, and Pat Oettinger was often the one that made sure it happened."
I first met Pat a few years later, in 1980, when I arrived to start as the first lead organizer of East Brooklyn Congregations. I was always struck by her no-nonsense approach to politics and to life in general, her ability to absorb all the ups and downs of our work in Queens and in New York City as a whole, and her wry sense of humor.
When we began Metro IAF, approximately 25 years ago, Pat became the administrative person that I, my organizer colleagues, and our Metro IAF board relied on. She lived the old Alinsky precept of "low overhead and high production" over all those years -- including years when it was very uncertain that we would emerge with more than a few dollars in the bank. Whenever the situation got tight, Pat would send me a little email inquiring about when the next check would be arriving. Pat understood how to nudge when necessary and to relax when not. As her co-worker over so many years, I place her in the pantheon of extraordinary administrative organizers -- with Lucille Clark, who retired from EBC and Patty Morales, current senior administrator for IAF Southwest -- who enabled the rest of us to do our organizing work knowing that we could count on unquestioned and unfailing support, professionalism, and foresight.
Oettinger Grandchildren Billy , Kirsten and Chris