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Kay Bullitt, Seattle philanthropist and civil rights activist, dies at 96

Aug. 24, 2021 Updated Tue., Aug. 24, 2021 at 7:36 p.m.

Kay Bullitt, photographed at her Capitol Hill home for a Pacific Northwest magazine portrait on Aug. 28, 2005.  (John Lok/The Seattle Times)
Kay Bullitt, photographed at her Capitol Hill home for a Pacific Northwest magazine portrait on Aug. 28, 2005. (John Lok/The Seattle Times)
By Dahlia Bazzaz Seattle Times Seattle Times

Katharine “Kay” Bullitt, co-founder of Bumbershoot, civic activist and a fixture in Seattle’s philanthropy world throughout the 20th century, died Aug. 22.

She was 96 years old.

Bullitt, born in Boston in 1925, was an advocate for a dizzying array of causes spanning education, racial justice, international relations, politics, historic-landmark preservation, and the arts – a legacy of the family she married into.

Her late ex-husband, Charles Stimson Bullitt, was heir to a family fortune that includes wealth from timber, real estate and broadcasting. He was an attorney, philanthropist and Democratic Party activist who opposed the Vietnam War. His mother, Dorothy, was an early television pioneer who founded the King Broadcasting Company and the Bullitt Foundation.

Bullitt left Massachusetts for Seattle in 1953 after teaching elementary school for five years, according a profile from the University of Washington’s Seattle Civil Rights & Labor History Project.

In the 1960s, she became a champion of one of the earliest efforts to desegregate Seattle Public Schools, an initiative where students would voluntarily transfer between Lowell and Madrona elementary schools, according to the profile.

She also organized a citizens group that helped recruit parents to opt their kids into the district’s integration program, as she had with her own.

Bullitt even brought the cause back to her Capitol Hill home, a civic gathering space for decades, and ran a racially integrated camp for kids in her backyard for a number of years.

Beyond education causes, Bullitt traveled the world on peace missions, worked restoration of the city’s Pioneer Square neighborhood and helped found a savings-and-loan bank for women.

In 2005, she told a Seattle Times reporter that she wanted the estate converted into a city park “when I die.” Her obituary confirmed that it will be.

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