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Toby Gersten Quitslund ’60

February 24, 2017, on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

Toby passed away peacefully a few days after celebrating her 78th birthday with a houseful of family members. She was born in Los Angeles, California, to Lee and Lily Gersten, and graduated from Chadwick School. After attending Wellesley for a year, she transferred to Reed College. She and Jon Quitslund ’61 were a couple during their last year at Reed, and they both moved east when he began graduate work at Princeton. They married in New York City in 1962, and in 1964 moved to Washington, D.C. where Jon began his teaching career at George Washington University. Jon once commented that “Toby and I believe that Reed fosters the kind of commitment that makes an unlikely marriage good over the long haul.” They raised two sons in the city, Jesse and Gabriel, spending summers with family on Bainbridge Island.

Before and after her sons were born, Toby pursued diverse academic interests, taking courses in psychology and later entering the PhD program in American studies offered by George Washington University in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Her focus was on art history and the history of photography, and this led to freelance work as a researcher and a curator of photography exhibitions in New York and Washington, and to a dissertation on the German-American photographer Arnold Genthe. Upon completion of her PhD in 1988, Toby began a career at the National Endowment for the Humanities, evaluating applications and administering grants for museums and documentary programs on NPR and PBS. A second experience with breast cancer cut short her career at NEH. Undeterred, she contacted NPR and volunteered for a series of news stories that followed her efforts to obtain insurance coverage for the bone marrow transplant procedure, and then took listeners through the stages of her treatment and recovery.

Having become interested in a career change, she completed half of a master’s program at the Smith College School for Social Work before her father’s illness and death intervened. Soon afterward, Jon decided to retire, and they moved to Bainbridge Island, where Toby was active in many facets of life. She joined the Arts & Humanities Council, serving as secretary and chairing the Public Art Committee for several years. A Buddhist meditation practice grounded her, and she touched many lives with her example and her teaching. She was also a mediator at the Dispute Resolution Center of Kitsap County and led an effort to teach mediation skills to women in prison. She is survived her husband, Jon, and sons, Jesse and Gabriel Quitslund ’97.

Appeared in Reed magazine: September 2017

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