PORTLAND’S CATHOLIC SERVICE COUPLE
Some considered Bill and Gladys McCoy a power couple. We at Catholic Charities prefer to remember them as a service couple.
After serving in the Navy during World War II, Mississippi-born Bill enrolled at Catholic-run University of Portland, where he earned a degree in business.
Born in Atlanta, Gladys earned a degree in sociology from Taladega College in Alabama. She landed a job with the YWCA
in Portland where Bill was a volunteer.
They fell in love and were wed in 1951 at Holy Rosary Church in Portland. Bill worked as a clothing buyer for a department store, and the McCoys lived in the Columbia Villa housing development in North Portland. They had little money.
Members of Holy Cross Parish, they began exploring Catholic social teachings and learned the proper art of mixing church wisdom and politics.
The McCoys and their fellow Catholics studied employment and housing problems in Portland, where Black residents faced racist hurdles. They themselves faced challenges buying a house until 1961.
They then took their knowledge outward. At churches and community centers, they gave presentations on racial fairness and community service. They helped organize a Portland conference on housing discrimination. Their strong leadership got noticed.
In 1972, Bill was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives. He soon moved on to the Senate and was named chairman of the Senate panel that covered social services. Bill became a champion of Catholic health care during a statehouse career of more than two decades.
Gladys worked in social services and taught college classes on the topic. In 1970, she was elected to the Portland School Board.
In 1978, with their seven children grown, Gladys increased her own public service, winning election to the Multnomah County Commission. The first Black woman to serve in county government, she would rise in a few years to become the commission’s chairwoman.
Amid it all, their spiritual life was paramount. They organized retreats for fellow Catholics and remained active in parish life. And they put the Gospel into action. For example, in 1980, they adopted a 19-year-old Cuban refugee. Bill played Santa Claus during Christmas parties for low-income children.
Gladys died of thyroid cancer in 1993. Bill soldiered on, continuing his public service. In 1996, he died of a heart attack at 74, still on the job.
In 2012, Catholic Charities found the perfect name for a new housing complex in Northeast Portland — McCoy Village. For five decades, this extraordinary couple used their influence for society’s good. We want to keep their memory alive.