Monthly Archives: May 2010

Catherine Sutton Has Died

Catherine Sutton, founder of Transition Albany and a beloved member of many communities in the Berkeley/Albany area, died unexpectedly on Monday, December 5. All of us who knew her are in shock and mourning.

Following is a brief description of Catherine’s life. It’s followed by a second post with information about her upcoming funeral and memorial celebration.

Please feel free to use the website contact form to pass along any memories or thoughts–I’ll make sure they get to Catherine’s husband Leonard.

Bob Spies
Transition Albany Webmaster


Catherine Ann Hildegard Sutton was born in Oxford England in 1949 to German refugee Margo Müller and British aeronautical engineer Peter Sutton. Her parents met during WWII, as Peter was sent in to discover the Nazi’s secrets. They say Catherine was born during a thunderstorm.

She is survived by husband Leonard Edmondson, sister Sally Sutton, brother John Sutton, two half-sisters, Peggy Sutton and Annora Sutton, son Robin Breathe, daughter-in-law Alice Breathe, and the joy of her life, granddaughter Hazel Breathe.

Living in England until she was almost 40, Catherine never drove a car there. She lived in some 50 places in her lifetime, and particularly loved living in Wales on some land with a group of 7 or so friends. She came to the United States in 1988.

Catherine was a Russian major at Leeds University. Studying Bulgarian as her second language, she was forever infected with the magic of Bulgarian music and dance when she came upon a wedding while living in Sofia, Bulgaria. (She was cluck-clucked by the old Bulgarian women when she wore her mini skirt on the bus.)

Using her gifts of language and cooking, for livelihood she has cooked, waited table, worked as a janitor, sold knives, written resounding resumes, played in a Balkan band, taught dance and guarded crossings. Her job was always what was right in front of her calling to be done and working for the ideal of right living and social justice. In the early 80’s, her business was called
Sunshine Biscuits. She would bake flapjacks and deliver them to local businesses by bicycle with her son Robin also riding in the trailer, and people called her “Cathy Sunshine”.

Catherine’s first stop in the U.S. was Campbell Hot Springs in Sierraville, California, living with Leonard Orr’s radical rebirthing community. She lived in Reno for a time and then in Penngrove, where Leonard found her. In the late 90’s, they were both involved in a company called Cell Tech which network-marketed super blue-green algae health food, yet another controversial and radical venture. They connected on a sunny Sunday on the green grass at the Cell Tech August Celebration in Klamath Falls, Oregon where she was playing with a baby. She came to live with Leonard in about 2001 and they were married in 2005. He added stability to her life, rooting her in Albany and giving her support, and she flowered in place like nobody’s business. They were continuously setting new records for her longest relationship and longest residence of her life.

She believed fiercely in non-institutional, community-based birth, life, and death. She had her own son Robin at home and would have preferred to die that way. She was stubborn, determined, fiery, and idealistic. She is the founder Transition Albany with its delightfully generic mission, which both spawned and assisted many other local projects. There is a pattern here of living on the edge, sometimes associating with controversial, shady but dynamic characters with idealism and determination to fundamentally change the world for the better.

With fabulous energy, she juggled many balls at once, daily, in a way that few can emulate. Around the bulging micro urban homestead she and Leonard shared, she cared for fruit trees, bees, chickens, worms, compost, and flowers, and did solar cooking, preserving, fermenting, drying, washing, conserving, with water tanks, a grey-water system, whole house water filter, solar water heating, solar electric generator, line drying, and the list goes on.

Leonard says,

I lost my life companion, wilderness backpack travel buddy, and my cryptic crossword co-puzzler. Catherine had an astounding command of language, often teaching me new words. When she built things it was always by the seat of her pants.

She is her mother’s daughter in that she survived and thrived, living by her will and her wits, holding strongly to her principles even when there was nothing else to hold onto. She was a challenging person to love, with the operative principles being continuous forgiveness and renewal. Now I’m working on forgiving her for dying.

Posted in Community Building, Economy, Edible Landscape Project, Energy, Food and Agriculture, Health and Healing, Housing, Local Activities, Resources, Social Justice on December 10, 2016

In Transition – the Movie

In TransitionIn Transition
On Sunday May 23rd, Transition Albany is showing the new film about the international Transition movement – “In Transition 1.0 – from oil dependence to local resilience.” It’s a delightful film that plays on the relation between present and future and has several child stars. If you miss the showing, you can watch the whole thing on Vimeo: in fact, why don’t you watch it with your neighbors to spread the word?

EcotopiaBreaking news is that Ernest Callenbach, a local author and visionary creator of the 1975 utopian novel Ecotopia, will be with us on Sunday to talk about his current vision of a sustainable future. We will end the afternoon with an opportunity to suggest, find support for, and/or hook into practical projects that will move us further towards community resilience in Albany.

After seeing and talking with several Transition communities in the UK on a recent visit to my new granddaughter (yes, I flew, and I’m prepared for that to be the last time for the foreseeable future. Mother Nature delayed my return by sending volcanic ash into the air, and it looks like she hasn’t finished that game yet!), my impression is that there is a huge wave of grassroots energy moving inexorably towards more local self-reliance, and Transition towns are popping up like mushrooms. Projects that I’ve seen include local food production, creating alternatives to individual motorized transport, encouragement to reduce energy consumption at home, relearning skills that were taken for granted in a pre-oil-rich civilization (“reskilling”), or putting more emphasis on individual production rather than simply consuming more store-bought stuff. It doesn’t have to have the name Transition to be an essential part of our transition away from centralized, energy-intense living to a more local, energy-lean and community-based lifestyle.

Dated City Codes
BeeHere in the East Bay there are already many backyards dedicated to growing food. My own tiny space produces more at times than I can keep up with. But it’s coming to my attention, thanks to an article in Terrain magazine, that city ordinances are written to dissuade people from engaging in urban farming within city borders. They probably date back to a time when it was seen as chic to be moving away from the drudgery of countryside living.

For instance, in Albany’s code (under Animals) it seems at first glance that keeping bee hives is not permitted. However the city did assure me that, as long as you ask them for and receive express written permission and pay a fee of $160, you can legally keep bees here (within limitations designed to maintain good neighborly relations). This makes the situation similar to that with chickens (up to six hens are allowed, no roosters). However, goats, sheep and horses are still listed as forbidden, and these are animals that do play a part in the low-energy Albany that some of us envision 20 years from now, along with super efficient motorized transport and high tech solutions. We are looking at major changes in the next couple of decades – let’s be foresightful and prepare the way.

So, come and watch the film and listen to one of the first people to express a utopian vision in writing on Sunday May 23rd and we’ll have a chance to share specific visions for Albany afterwards. In 20 years this community could look, sound and feel very different from Albany today. What do you envision?

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Uncategorized on May 19, 2010