Monthly Archives: June 2011

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

A Successful “Unleashing”

Albany’s Great Unleashing on May 22nd was a success.

Here’s an account by Kentaro Toyama on the Transition US blogsite, and here’s an account by Catherine Sutton.

A dedicated team of 12 planned a full program that inspired, motivated and educated those attending while allowing for lots of networking, and we implemented it beautifully, sticking to schedule 90% of the time, despite expectations to the contrary! The venue, a rather dark 1930’s building with some beautiful design features, looked welcoming and very human, thanks to the work of Catherine Henderson, a local healer who was intent on providing an element beyond words, and friends.

An unexpected last-minute gift was hearing Kris Welch feature Transition on KPFA’s “Living Room” the previous Friday. She gave away a DVD (donated by Transition US) of Rob Hopkins, the founder, talking at a Findhorn conference, and enthusiastically mentioned Albany’s Great Unleashing more than once.

We sold 130 tickets and some youth came free, as well as a handful of children for our well-staffed children’s area. This was the first time we had specifically catered to children and we’re glad some families took advantage of it, though we would have loved to have had 10 times as many. The hall was fullest during Richard Heinberg’s presentation, The End of Growth, but good numbers attended the Open Space in the afternoon (some came specifically for that) and a few stayed at the end for the musical performances from AshEL “Seasunz” Eldridge and our local contra dance band, Crow for Day.

After an introduction from Albany’s mayor, Farid Javandel, himself a transportation specialist who chooses one of the many available alternatives before getting into his car, the audience got to work in small groups to look at some of the challenges we face together, using images and words on cards that addressed the end of cheap oil, climate change, the effect of anomalies in food prices, comparative water footprints, and the state of the economy, national, local and personal. The exercise proved engaging and met its goal of getting people talking to one another.

Catherine Sutton, founder of the Transition initiative in Albany two years ago, gave a brief presentation on TA’s vision for the future before we launched into the main piece of the day, an Open Space process led by Alexa Hauser, to answer the Question: “What actions can we/do we want to take to make Albany more resilient given today’s economic, energy, and environmental challenges?”

The room was festooned with not only the Question, writ large above the stage, but also the five Open Space guidelines, painstakingly reproduced by Alexa, and visual reminders in the form of piñatas – a pair of boots (The Law of Two Feet), and a bee and a butterfly to represent the different ways people can approach the Open Space process. 13 lively discussion groups evolved, and notes were recorded for each. Songs brought us back together to summarize developments before a picnic dinner break (with food from a local High School culinary academy and deli) and more songs eased us back into the lecture with Richard Heinberg.

Richard talked of Net Energy Return on Investment (NEROI) and how shale oil, fracking, deepwater drilling and other new techniques for finding and accessing the increasingly hard-to-get fossil fuels, require huge outgoing expense, and then, even with all the expensive equipment, not every site actually yields fuel. 18 months ago, the cost of extracting a barrel of oil was $60. Now it is closer to $80. In short, we are fast running out of the cheap energy on which our entire economy is based.

A high point in his slideshow was a series of images to illustrate the US debt burden. Starting with a $100 bill, he showed images of piles representing larger and larger sums, up to one billion dollars (“You’d need an 18-wheeler for this”) to one trillion dollars (“Now we’re talking real money!”) – where a human figure was dwarfed next to the football-field-sized, 6′ high pile of bank notes. Current US debt stands at $14.3 trillion. It became crystal clear that there’s no way our economy can continue to grow given the finite nature of the resources on which it relies.

There was laughter when he appeared to sum up his presentation with words to the effect that “we’re all screwed,” but he ended with some hopeful ideas. Even though the cushy lifestyle we’ve enjoyed for the last 50 years can’t last, we’ve been through hard times before. We can create a more stable, interest-free currency based on local value – a steady-state currency independent of the US dollar. We can localize production. We can build strong community resilience and interdependence with Transition towns and similar efforts.

AshEL’s spoken word offerings brought the heart roundly into the room and when the music started, bodies began to move, relieved to “shake it out” after an intense day. At the end, there were just enough people with the energy to dance some creative square dances called by Edie Ladin to lively music from Albany’s own Contra Dance Band, Crow for Day, and we finished with a Breton circle dance.

If the goal was to create a memorable event that was the beginning of something community-driven to build resilience, I think we achieved it. A strong, self-led food group is evolving, as well as various other small groups – around a Time Bank and Herbal First Aid, for instance. More will follow.

Here are some more pictures.

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Posted in Economy, Energy on June 13, 2011