By Alex Emslie
Deborah Kay Porter, a devoted City College management assistant and long-time Service Employees International Union member, died April 8 after an eight-month battle with lung cancer. She was 56 years old.
More than 400 people attended a memorial service held for Porter on April 20 at the Ocean campus Diego Rivera Theatre.
“She hitchhiked here from Indiana when she was 15,” Porter’s son Omar Brown said. “She started here with nothing, and she created everything she left behind for us.”
Porter joined City College in 1995 as a senior clerk typist in the art department. Her personal and fair way of dealing with people from every level of the college precipitated two promotions throughout her career. She was promoted in 1998 to the School of Liberal Arts and Castro/Valencia campus dean’s office. She was promoted again to management assistant in the same office in 2006.
“She was a mother to lots of students,” said Bruce Smith, dean of the school and campus Porter worked for.
Her passion for helping didn’t stop with the City College student body. She served SEIU, Local 1021 in the offices of secretary, bargaining team member and Chief Steward — a position that allowed her to help fellow union members resolve issues with their supervisors.
After joining the union “she blossomed, she looked for lots of different opportunities, and there were so many wrongs that she wanted to right,” SEIU member Patti Tamura said.
Porter often served as a mediator concerning “problem cases” including students, staff and faculty at City College, Chancellor Don Griffin said.
“We called her, in a very positive way, ‘the social worker,’” Griffin said, adding that Porter was so skilled in mediation that she could have taught a class on the subject.
Porter was a voracious reader who also loved movies and discussing them with colleagues and friends. She was a lifelong student who often enrolled in classes at City College. She liked to arrive early to work so she could chat with her good friends George Cardoza and Brenda Cruise at the Crown Catering food truck outside the Visual Arts Building.
To many who knew her, it seemed she alone had “a 15-day week,” as she was able to juggle so many professional obligations and hobbies and still never turn down a friend in need.
“Debbie was only vulnerable if you asked her to dance, the only thing that she could claim to call a social phobia,” retired art department Chair Ray Holbert said.
Along with making herself indispensable to her colleagues, Porter’s professional relationships always bloomed into friendships, Smith said.
“We’ve all lost someone special, and I lost my best friend,” retired art department instructor Michael Ruiz said.
Porter is survived by her children — Shenqua, Omar and Kalief Brown; sisters — Jeanne Porter, Amanda Whittier and Leslie Dyra; stepchildren — Gabriel and Dejanae Brown, Sunseria Pierce and Dionna Noguera; and grandchildren — Tamia Brown, Jaden Marcel, Dominic and Donovan Noguera.