by Sarah Luthens -
Special to the SGN
Longtime LGBTQ activist, affordable-housing champion, and beloved friend Neil Powers died on September 11 of natural causes at his residence in Toronto, Canada. Best known for his astute political acumen, long hours of hard work, low-key nature, sweet kindnesses, and fierce dedication, Neil served as an aide to then Seattle City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck from 1997 to 2007.
Neil was born in 1955 to Helen and James Powers. Raised in West Pittston, near Scranton, Penn., Neil graduated from both the University of Pittsburgh and George Brown College (Toronto). Recently he attended Centennial College (Toronto), where he was selected for the Dean's Award. The faculty there have created a scholarship in his name.
Neil's articles were published by the Financial Times (Canada), the National Post (Canada), the Seattle Gay News, and The Body Politic (Canada). During the 2017 Seattle mayoral race, Neil wrote for www.outsidecityhall.com.
In his salad days in Toronto, Neil was a grassroots community organizer for economic and social justice, working side by side with firebrand Jack Layton and others. Neil was active in the first mass mobilization against bathhouse raids in 1981, sometimes known as Canada's Stonewall. Neil also broke through a homophobic barrier by becoming the first openly gay mentor in the Big Brothers program in Canada.
Years later Neil lived on Toronto Island, which he loved. Neil spent considerable time in Vancouver and the west coast of British Columbia. He was a true Canadaphile. Neil had many close First Nations friends.
When he moved to Seattle, he helped to launch what is now known as Roots Young Adult Shelter. After working at City Hall, Neil worked for the United Way of King County, providing strategic direction to fund programs serving homeless people. Neil served on the boards of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and the Broadway Cooperative Association. He also served on a City of Seattle commission studying nightlife.
He enjoyed Toronto life with John Redekop, Earl Groenewegen, and Bryan Wierzimok; vacations and holidays with Otto Nupponen and Daniel Morisette; hiking with Randy Beitel; photography with Oscar Adrian Centeno; talking politics with John Fox, Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, Sharon Lee, David Bloom, Gary Clark, Sinan Demirel, Alice Woldt, Trevor Griffey, Stephanie Pure, Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck, Sarah Luthens, and so many others.
The youngest of five, Neil is survived by brother James and sisters-in-law Dorothy, Bobbie, and Anne, in addition to nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents and siblings Brian, Kevin, and Ellen. Memorial services will be held in Swoyersville, Penn., on Oct 20.
A memorial service will be held in Toronto on September 29. A memorial will also be taking place in Vancouver, date TBD.
The local memorial service will be held on Saturday, October 6, at Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave (First Hill). Doors open at 3 p.m.; the program begins at 3:30 p.m. Flowers are welcome.
To honor Neil's memory, please contribute to the Seattle Displacement Coalition, the Roots Young Adult Shelter, or the Neil Powers Journalism Scholarship at Centennial College (Toronto).
Our cherished friend left indelible marks in the hearts of so many and on many public policies in Seattle and Toronto. Our Neil will be missed immensely.
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