Skip to main content

McCoy, Gladys (1928-1993)



  • Existence: 1928-02-28 - 1993-04-11


Gladys McCoy was born in February 28, 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Talladega College in Alabama and earned a bachelor’s degree in sociobiology with a minor in economics. In the early 1950’s she moved to Oregon where she met and married William McCoy. In 1967, she earned a master’s degree in social work from Portland State University. In 1969, she became a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers.

In 1967, McCoy directed social services for Project Head Start in the Vancouver, Washington school system. Her success in this project encouraged her to run for public office. She was elected to the Portland School Board in 1970 and served two four-year terms. During the early 1970’s she also taught sociology and social work courses at a number of schools including Clark College, Pacific University, Portland Community College, and International College of Cayman Islands in the British West Indies. In 1975, she was appointed as the State Ombudsman by Governor Bob Straub, serving from 1976 through 1978.

In 1978, she was elected to her first term as Multnomah County Commissioner. She was re-elected to the board in 1982. In 1984, she resigned from the board to run unsuccessfully for the Portland City Council. Her priorities during her service as commissioner included initiating the Future of Local Governments Group, promoting inter-institutional automated office systems and electronic mail, and creating a revised Civilian Conservation Corps.

In 1986, McCoy was elected as Multnomah County Chair. She was reelected as Chair in 1990 and served until her death on April 11th, 1993. Her accomplishments during her tenure were extensive. In 1989, she established a model program for delivering human and justice services at the Columbia Villa housing project (where she had lived early in her residence in Portland). She also stabilized county funding, expanded and met county affirmative action goals, increased citizen participation in government, increased minority representation on county boards and commissions, and standardized the county charitable contribution program.

McCoy actively participated in both the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) and the National Association of Counties (NACO). She served as the AOC president in 1983 and on NACO’s board of directors from 1990-1993. She also attended the Kennedy School of Government in 1987 and in the 1990 International Moral Re-Armament Consultation in Caux, Switzerland.

She was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including the 1980 Oregon Mother of the Year, the Chisholm Award, the Black Affairs Political Development Award, and the Central City Concern Community Award. The 1997 Legislature formally memorialized her and her husband Bill as the “first African-American political family of Oregon” []. The City of Portland established the McCoy Community Garden in 2004 and McCoy Park in 2005.

Gladys McCoy died of thyroid cancer on April 11, 1993. She was an Oregon pioneer, serving as the first [black] member of both the Portland School Board and the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners. Along with her husband Bill, who served in the Oregon State Legislature from 1973 until his death in 1996, she worked tirelessly to improve the lives of the poor, to increase support for children, to expand opportunities for minorities, and to provide effective, efficient government to Multnomah County residents.

Author: Terry Baxter



Found in 2 Collections and/or Records:

Commissioner's records: Gladys McCoy

Identifier: multco032
Dates: 1906 - 1993; Majority of material found within 1976 - 1993

Photographs, 1906-1991

 Digital Record
Identifier: dfb88ff422bce7f581f988c0d1ee7ff0-D01
Dates: 1906 - 1991