Gwyneth Gamble Booth, civic activist and ‘force of nature,’ dies at 86

Gwyneth Gamble Booth, the Portland philanthropist and journalist who helped break down barriers for women in the corporate boardroom, died Oct. 25. She was 86.

Booth was the first woman to serve on Portland General Electric’s board of directors. She later became chair of the PGE Foundation. “Watching her in that realm, in an all-male environment in a business like ours … it was very impressive,” said Peggy Fowler, then president of the utility.

“She was breaking glass ceilings before that was a thing,” said her daughter, Elizabeth Gamble Caldwell.

Booth and her late husband, Portland lawyer Brian Booth, formed one of Portland’s most effective power couples. They were hands-on supporters of the arts. They threw lavish parties at their large house in Portland Heights, often to benefit one cause or another.

In addition to the PGE and PGE Foundation boards, Booth over the years served on the boards of the Portland Japanese Garden, The Dougy Center, the Portland Art Museum and the Regional Arts Council.

In 1998, Booth and her husband, Brian Booth, were given the Portland First Citizen Award, which honors civic achievement and business leadership,

The house was filled with art and large floral arrangements. What some of the guests didn’t know was that Booth had grown many of the flowers herself.

“She liked to get down in the dirt,” said Carri Hoops, a neighbor and friend. “She was a force of nature.”

Booth, born in 1936, was raised in the Seattle area, where her mother, Elizabeth Wright Evans, was a pioneering broadcast journalist.

Booth moved to Portland in the late 1950s and followed her mother into journalism. She co-hosted the long-running “Front Street Weekly” newsmagazine show on Oregon Public Broadcasting. While many segments were features, often on Portland artists and writers, “Front Street Weekly” also did stories on tough issues like homeless children and the AIDS epidemic.

Booth and her first husband, Ted Gamble, had four children.

The Dougy Center, a Southeast Portland organization serving children and others grieving the loss of a loved one, may have been the organization closest to her heart. Booth not only was a powerful advocate and fundraiser for the nonprofit but also a volunteer, facilitating support groups.

“She was the quintessential ambassador for The Dougy Center,” said Brennan Woods, the center’s executive director. “She also volunteered here for 30 years. She knew the kids’ names. She was there in the middle of it.”

Random acts of kindness became one of Booth’s trademarks. Kregg Arntson, then a twenty-something rookie corporate communications employee at PGE, was assigned to work with Booth when she was on the PGE board and its foundation.

Arntson recalled that early on, Booth would ask him if he was single and available. She was looking for a suitable match for her daughter. They had a good laugh when Arntson married his husband.

Years later, after Arntson and his husband brought a baby girl into their family, Booth insisted on hosting a baby shower.

“She had a knack for making people feel special,” Arntson said. “And it was authentic. It wasn’t lip service.”

She is survived by son Brian Gamble and daughter Elizabeth Gamble Caldwell. Two other sons, Theodore Roosevelt Gamble III and Bruce Gamble, preceded their mother in death.

The family is planning a memorial service, likely in the spring. No date has been set.

— Jeff Manning;

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