Toby Gersten Quitslund

Feb. 24, 2017

Toby Quitslund, of Bainbridge Island, passed away peacefully a few days after celebrating her 78th birthday with a houseful of family members.

Toby was born in Los Angeles, California on Feb. 20, 1939, to Lee and Lily (Harris) Gersten. She grew up in Los Angeles, graduating from Chadwick School in 1956. She attended Wellesley for a year and transferred to Reed College, where she was a member of the class of 1960.

She and Jon Quitslund were a couple during their last year at Reed, and they both moved east when Jon began graduate work at Princeton. They were married in New York City in 1962 and moved to Washington, D. C., in 1964 when Jon began his teaching career at George Washington University. They raised two sons in the city (Jesse, born in 1970; Gabriel, born in 1973), spending summers with family on Bainbridge Island.

Before and after her sons were born, Toby pursued diverse academic interests, taking courses in Psychology and later entering the Ph. D. program in American Studies offered by George Washington University in conjunction with the Library of Congress; her focus was on art history and the history of photography. This led to freelance work as a researcher and a curator of photography exhibitions in New York and Washington, and to a dissertation on the German-American photographer Arnold Genthe.

Upon completion of her Ph. D. in 1988, Toby began a career at the National Endowment for the Humanities, evaluating applications and administering grants for museums and documentary programs on NPR and PBS.

A second experience with breast cancer in 1994-5 cut short her career at NEH. Undeterred by cancer, she contacted NPR and volunteered for a series of news stories that followed her efforts to obtain insurance coverage for the bone marrow transplant procedure, and then took listeners through the stages of her treatment and recovery.

Interested in a career change, she completed half of a Master’s program at the Smith College School for Social Work before her father’s illness and death intervened. Soon afterward, Jon decided to retire, and in 2000 they moved to Bainbridge Island, to complete the family circle around Jon’s parents in their last years.

Toby was active in many facets of life on Bainbridge. She and Jon had a house and a garden to transform in accord with her fine eye and sense of proportion. In 2001 she joined the Arts & Humanities Council, serving as secretary and chairing the Public Art Committee for several years. A Buddhist meditation practice grounded her, and she touched many lives with her example and her teaching. Participating in the lives of her adult sons and her granddaughter brought her joy.

Beginning in 2006, Toby trained as a mediator at the Dispute Resolution Center of Kitsap County; she volunteered in that capacity, became a mentor to others, and led an effort to teach mediation skills to women in prison.

Toby is survived by her husband Jon; by sons Jesse (Nadia) and Gabriel; and by a granddaughter, Ava.

A service of remembrance will be planned for a later date. Donations in Toby’s name may be made to Arts & Humanities Bainbridge or the Dispute Resolution Center of Kitsap County. Please sign the online Guest Book for the family at:

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