Remembering Kip Tiernan:
GBFB Founder and Inspiration Dies at 85

Published on August 29, 2011

Feisty and compassionate, Kip Tiernan, who died on July 2nd of cancer in her home in Boston, was a nationally recognized pioneer and advocate for the provision of housing and food to those in need.  In 1974, she founded Rosie’s Place, the country’s first shelter established specifically to address the issues confronting homeless women and their children.  The need to feed shelter residents led her to begin collecting and distributing food out of her station wagon, a direct response to an unmet need that has evolved and grown into The Greater Boston Food Bank today.

Kip was raised by her grandmother, who she witnessed regularly feeding soup to out-of-work and homeless people during the Great Depression.  As a young woman, Kip learned to fly a plane and studied jazz.  Eventually she became a successful copywriter with her own advertising agency.

Inspired by such social justice figures as Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, in 1968 Kip left her comfortable life and began devoting her considerable energies to helping homeless and hungry people in the greater Boston area.  Her fierce compassion and facility with language made her one of Boston’s most quotable advocates for the poor.  It was she who coined the phrase, “from the Great Society to the Grate Society.”

“Kip’s compassion ran deep and long, and her dauntless spirit continues to energize and guide GBFB,” said Catherine D’Amato, President and CEO of The Greater Boston Food Bank.  “She saw a need, and moved to address it.  Because of her, hundreds of thousands of people, including many vulnerable women and children, have had something to eat when they are hurting and struggling to make ends meet. “

At a 2008 GBFB staff event, Ms. Tiernan acknowledged the recession, which had resulted in a 23% increase in requests for food assistance.  Rallying employees, she said, “As a self-styled nonprofit junkie, I frequently ask myself if I am a do-gooder, or a good doer.  And then I look at you, sloughing along through these grapes of wrath, and I can say with you and to you, we are not do-gooders.  We are good doers.  And what we do, we do well.  We have learned that compassion is not a smiley face, but a discipline that we will carry with us all the days of our lives.”

Quotes About Kip

“Every day of her life she lived for social justice, and the lives she saved were untold.  She was a very special person, and there’s a big hole in our lives today because Kip’s not here. This nation is going to miss Kip Tiernan because of her fight for social justice.’’– Boston Mayor, Thomas M. Menino

“Kip combined compassion with a pragmatic approach to solving issues, like: Hungry? Food. Homeless? Housing. And she challenged people with that clarity.’’– Fran Froehlich, Kip Tiernan’s partner in advocacy for more than 35 years

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