RIP: Kitty Tucker (1944-2019)

one of the original No Nukes campaigners

from Bob Alvarez, her husband(posted on Facebook)

As some of you might know, my wife Kitty Tucker passed on the evening of March 30th. In 1963, at the age of 19, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease and given a few months to live. But oh, what a life she went on to live as a mother, loving wife, and warrior for justice. By 1965, she was jailed in Alabama for trying to register African-American voters. She helped found a medical clinic for the poor that's still open, fought for women's rights, became an attorney and helped organize a successful lawsuit on behalf of the parents of Karen Silkwood, a nuclear worker, that ultimately prevailed in the Supreme Court. (Silkwood's life was made into an Oscar winning movie starring Cher and Meryl Streep). Kitty fought against food irradiation, and even in her later years was organizing to have the City of Takoma Park divest from banks supporting the nuclear weapons industry. The list goes on.

Kitty had a constant struggle with ill health. She also survived breast cancer, survived having two heart valves replaced (damaged by rheumatic fever as a child), lived through chronic migraines and even managed to survive outliving the loss of her oldest child. She lived a long life and impacted many and will be missed.

Most importantly, she raised her children with unconditional love and opened the door to a life of meaning for me.

Warmest Regards,


my rememberance (Mark Robinowitz)

It was amazing she outlasted her doctor's prediction of a few more months to live by almost a half century.

When I worked for Kitty I asked her what she thought of the Silkwood movie. She replied it made Kerr McGee seem not that bad. I replied that they were the bad guys in the film! I read Kohn's book and agreed "Silkwood" was an understatement.

I have fond memories of the FDA approval of irradiation of fruits and vegetables a few days before Chernobyl. Health and Energy Institute along with Food and Water in New Jersey and the National Coalition to Stop Food Irradiation based in California mostly stopped food irradiation, an accomplishment that happened before the age of the ubiquitous internet and therefore mostly forgotten. The food irradiation campaign tried petitioning the FDA and USDA (unsuccessful) and a couple states enacted labeling laws (unenforceable). What succeeded was the court of public opinion. Kitty bought a mailing list of about three thousand health food stores and we sent them all an alert. (It's so much easier to use email and websites than the US Post Office bulk mail system ...) Pressuring and naming food corporations was the most effective tactic. Most of the anti-GMO efforts have not heard of this and have focused mostly on labeling (with predictable results).

I am convinced how to support each other (from the family to the global level) as things unravel is probably the most important task, since without emotional health the politics are unlikely to get better (as current events demonstrate).

It was surreal to take the public tour of Hanford a couple years ago after having read so much about the place since Health and Energy Institute. The tour passed the defunct breeder reactor that Kerr McGee's fuel rods were for and also the repository for the cesium capsules that were intended to irradiate our food. I brought a geiger counter and fortunately did not come across any detectable hot spots, although the tour bus did not stop at the tank farm, they only drove us past it.

Kitty Tucker, 75, Who Raised Awareness of the Silkwood Case, Dies

The lawyer and activist Kitty Tucker discussed the car-crash death of the nuclear power whistle-blower Karen Silkwood at a news conference in 1984, after the Supreme Court upheld the decision that the Silkwood estate could sue the Kerr-McGee Company for damages. The Rev. William Davis, an investigator for the Silkwood family, listened.Credit United Press International

  • April 11, 2019

Kitty Tucker, a public interest lawyer and antinuclear activist who helped raise national awareness of the case of Karen Silkwood, the nuclear power whistle-blower, died on March 30 in Silver Spring, Md. She was 75.

Her husband, Robert Alvarez, said the cause was complications of a urinary tract infection.

Ms. Tucker was a first-year law student in 1974 when she read that Ms. Silkwood, a technician at a Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Oklahoma and a union activist, had died in a mysterious car crash on her way to meet with a reporter for The New York Times. Ms. Silkwood had radioactive plutonium in her lungs; Kerr-McGee said she had deliberately contaminated herself to make the company look bad.

Ms. Silkwood had intended to show the reporter, David Burnham, evidence that the plant had numerous safety violations and was endangering the lives of its employees, though no such evidence was found in her car. Union investigators said that the car might have been forced off the road, but that was never proved.

The plant closed the year after Ms. Silkwood’s death, which became a rallying cry for antinuclear activists and helped sow doubts about the nuclear energy industry. In 1983, her story was made into a popular movie, “Silkwood,” starring Meryl Streep in the title role and Cher as a co-worker, directed by Mike Nichols and written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen. All were nominated for Academy Awards.

Ms. Tucker, who viewed Ms. Silkwood as a feminist hero, was outraged by Kerr-McGee’s claim that she had poisoned herself.

As an activist for the National Organization for Women, Ms. Tucker pushed for a legal case to be made against Kerr-McGee. She and Sara Nelson, a NOW official, started the group Supporters of Silkwood, based in Ms. Tucker’s home in Takoma Park, Md., from which they sent out newsletters to raise money and heighten national awareness of the case.

“She took it upon herself to counteract the negative portrayal of Karen Silkwood being spread by Kerr-McGee,” Ms. Tucker’s husband said in a telephone interview. “She was an organizer by nature, a force of nature.”

Ms. Tucker also recruited a legal team to pursue the case. The team came to include Gerry Spence, then a relatively unknown trial lawyer, whose role would bring him to national prominence.

In a major setback for the nuclear power industry, a federal jury in Oklahoma in 1979 found Kerr-McGee guilty of negligence and awarded the Silkwood estate $10.5 million. The decision was reversed by a federal appeals court; that decision was itself reversed by the United States Supreme Court. The parties ultimately settled, with Kerr-McGee paying the estate $1.38 million and Ms. Silkwood emerging as a martyr of the antinuclear movement.

Kathleen Marie Payne, known as Kitty, was born on Feb. 28, 1944, in Carroll, Iowa, and grew up in Clear Lake, Wis. Her father, Veldon, was a high school business teacher; her mother, Florence Cecelia (Mahoney) Payne, was a part-time postmaster in Clear Lake.

Kitty graduated from Clear Lake High School in 1962 and from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. She went on to the Antioch School of Law in Washington, which specialized in public advocacy and is now part of the University of the District of Columbia. She graduated in 1978.

She married Charles Tucker in 1967; they divorced in 1970. She met Mr. Alvarez in 1972 in Eugene, Ore., where they helped start a free health clinic for poor people. They moved to Washington and married in 1974.

In addition to her husband, with whom she lived in Takoma Park, she is survived by their two daughters, Amber Torgerson and Kerry Rochester; two grandchildren; two brothers, Stanley and Alan; and a sister, Sheila Toso. A son from her first marriage, Shawn Tucker, died in 1994, and her brother Kevin died in 2004.

Ms. Tucker had a long career as a political activist. She was jailed in Alabama in 1965 for attempting to register African-American voters. Arriving in Washington during the Watergate scandal, she started a national campaign to impeach President Richard M. Nixon.

Throughout her life, she coped with serious illnesses. She learned she had Hodgkin’s disease when she was 19 and was given only a few months to live, but she received treatment that extended her life for decades. She had two heart valves replaced as a result of rheumatic fever and later suffered from migraine headaches.

To help deal with those headaches, she and her husband grew their own marijuana at home. But in what Mr. Alvarez said was a “fit of teenage pique,” their daughter Kerry reported them to the police in 1999, leading to their arrest. They pleaded guilty, were given a light sentence, and long ago reconciled with their daughter.

The episode inspired Ms. Tucker to embark on another campaign, this one to lobby the state of Maryland to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes. That bill was signed into law in 2013.



Kitty Tucker, antinuclear activist who brought national attention to Silkwood case, dies at 75

By Emily Langer

April 4 at 6:23 PM

Kitty Tucker, an antinuclear activist who helped organize a high-profile lawsuit in the case of Karen Silkwood, the nuclear power whistleblower whose story was later dramatized in the Academy Award-nominated film "Silkwood," died March 30 at a hospital in Silver Spring, Md. She was 75.

kitty tucker

Kitty Tucker brought national attention to the death of nuclear power whistleblower Karen Silkwood. (Family photo)


The cause was cardiac complications from an infection, said her husband, Robert Alvarez.

Ms. Tucker devoted nearly her entire adult life to social and environmental causes as an activist and a public-interest lawyer. She participated in the feminist movement as a member of the National Organization for Women and during the civil rights movement was jailed while working to register African American voters in Alabama, her husband said.

But she became best known for her work on behalf of Silkwood, a technician at a Kerr-McGee plutonium plant in Oklahoma who was contaminated by plutonium and who died in a 1974 automobile crash on her way to discuss with a New York Times reporter what she alleged were safety violations at the plant.

An investigator for the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union alleged that Silkwood's car may have been forced off the road, a claim that was not proved. But her death, and the 1983 film directed by Mike Nichols with Meryl Streep in the title role, brought renewed national attention to questions about the safety of nuclear power.

Ms. Tucker was a law student when she read news reports about Silkwood's death. While juggling her academic responsibilities and caring for her young children, she successfully lobbied the National Organization for Women to push for an investigation into the case.

With Sara Nelson, NOW's national labor secretary, she founded Supporters of Silkwood, an operation headquartered at Ms. Tucker's home in Takoma Park, Md. The women used their own money to send newsletters around the country, The Washington Post reported in 1979.

Howard Kohn, a journalist who covered the Silkwood case for Rolling Stone magazine and wrote the book "Who Killed Karen Silkwood?," described Ms. Tucker as the "lead organizer" of the lawsuit that pitted the Silkwood family against Kerr-McGee. He credited her with mounting a fundraising campaign for the effort and recruiting a legal team that came to include the celebrity lawyer Gerry Spence.

"That turned what had been a quixotic piece of litigation into a serious piece of litigation," Kohn said.

In 1979, an Oklahoma jury found that Kerr-McGee had acted negligently in allowing Silkwood to be contaminated and awarded her estate $10.5 million, including $10 million in punitive damages. In 1981, an appeals court reversed that part of the settlement, contending that a state jury could not lawfully award damages against a federally licensed nuclear facility.

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision in 1984, sending the case back to the lower court for further proceedings. Two years later, the parties reached a settlement of $1.38 million.


"The point is that what Kitty started led to this precedent-making litigation and verdict," Kohn said. He said that he was "impressed by her passion," recalling the intensity that she balanced with a nonconfrontational style that he traced to her upbringing in the Midwest. "She didn't take no for an answer," he remarked.

Kathleen Marie Payne was born Feb. 28, 1944, in Carroll, Iowa, and grew up in Clear Lake, Wis. Her father taught business at a local high school, and her mother was a part-time postmaster.

At 19, Ms. Tucker was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease and given a few months to live, her husband said. She later suffered from breast cancer.

She received a bachelor's degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin in 1967 and a law degree from the Antioch School of Law, now part of the University of the District of Columbia, in 1978.

After her involvement in the Silkwood case, she served as executive director of the Health and Energy Institute, a Washington-based organization that campaigned against nuclear power, the irradiation of food, and other issues.

Ms. Tucker's first marriage, to Charles Tucker, ended in divorce. Their son, Shawn Tucker, died in 1994. Survivors include her husband of 44 years, Robert Alvarez of Takoma Park; their two daughters, Amber Torgerson of Virginia Beach and Kerry Rochester of Eugene, Ore.; two brothers; a sister; and two grandchildren.

In 1999, Ms. Tucker and her husband, who was employed at the time as a senior Energy Department official, were arrested after their daughter Kerry, then 16, reported them to police for growing marijuana in their home. Ms. Tucker, who suffered from conditions including migraines and fibromyalgia, said she used the drug for medical purposes.

Alvarez was fired from his government position. He and his wife each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge and received six months' probation, a $150 fine and a suspended 10-day jail sentence. Their records were later expunged, Alvarez said.

He attributed the action by his daughter to a "fit of teenage pique" and said that they bore no animus toward her over the episode. He said that his wife campaigned for the legalization of medical marijuana in Maryland, which took effect in 2013. At her death, she was a member of the Nuclear-Free Takoma Park Committee.