Gloria Duncan, a public relations dynamo who helped to promote and grow Sonoma State University, Community Foundation Sonoma County and the regional chapter of the American Red Cross, died Wednesday at age 76.
The quick-witted and amiable Santa Rosa native was a political and news junkie, an anti-war activist, a builder of community and a lifelong lover of music.
"If she believed in something, she took it on," said her husband, former longtime Red Cross administrator Tim Duncan. The couple moved away from Sonoma County a decade ago but returned to Santa Rosa in July because Gloria Duncan was dealing with the effects of an inoperable brain tumor.
"I wanted her to be surrounded by her kids and her grandkids," Tim Duncan said.
A daughter, Christy Somers of Santa Rosa, said Gloria Duncan followed her passion and excelled at advocating and communicating the missions of major community organizations despite having no college education and working in a traditionally male-dominated profession.
"That was just grit, determination and heart," Somers said, "And a brilliant mind."
Duncan was born at Sonoma County Hospital in 1937. Her father was a military man who, following World War II, took his wife and family with him on a two-year assignment to Japan.
The family returned to Sonoma County and Gloria finished her schooling at Santa Rosa High, where classmates knew her as "Deeter" Carpenter. Following graduation, she studied at Santa Rosa Junior College and took what work she could find, at one time running the handkerchief counter at the former White House department store.
She married Alfred Cathcart in 1956 and they had three children. As a young homemaker she found her activist voice upon being annoyed by the ice cream trucks whose chiming awoke and her kids and started them agitating for sugary treats.
A 1999 Press Democrat story recounted the letter to the editor in which she "blasted the afternoon ice cream pusher as a &‘cavity peddler'." A bit later she would march against the war in Vietnam.
Having inherited a love of music from her mother, Ruth Westphal, Duncan worked for a time with the Santa Rosa Symphony Foundation. After she and Cathcart divorced, she fell in love with one of Sonoma County's favorite jazz musicians, Walt Oster.
In 1968, the fledgling Sonoma State University hired Oster to create a jazz program. His wife worked with him and together they created the Redwood Empire Jazz Festival, which drew nearly 15,000 teen musicians to the Rohnert Park campus.
That effort led to the former Gloria Oster being hired by SSU to handle public relations and publicity for the school's performing arts. In 1978, then-President Peter Diamondopolous named her the special-events director.
Among her achievements were revamped commencement exercises and stronger relationships between the college and the community. She worked 16 years for SSU before becoming executive director of the Sonoma County branch of the San Francisco Better Business Bureau.
In 1995, she was named development and public relations coordinator for the Sonoma County Chapter of the American Red Cross. She thrived with the Red Cross, using her considerable people skills to attract public interest in its works, and financial support.
Along the way, she and her boss, Tim Duncan, then chief of the regional chapter, fell in love.