Gogerty, Patrick (1929-2016)

  • By Patrick McRoberts
  • Posted 10/17/2007
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 8304
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Patrick Gogerty became director of Seattle Day Nursery in 1973 and transformed the program, originally founded in 1909 as a daycare center, a model program for abused children. The program was renamed Childhaven in 1985 and is recognized as one of the leading and most forward-thinking child abuse programs in the nation. The keys to Childhaven's effectiveness include early intervention with infants, keeping the child in the home, providing hot meals and therapy during the day, and counseling parents at the same time. Pat Gogerty himself came from an abusive home, where his father Roy, an alcoholic, beat his mother and the five Gogerty brothers. Pat, the eldest, was put in foster care several times. From this early experience, Gogerty went on to work with disturbed children in a number of settings. His concerns about the shortcomings of state support for such care paved the way for him and his brother Bob to become involved in politics, with Pat becoming a skilled pollster and Bob (1940-2014) an influential consultant. Using his political connections, Pat Gogerty was able to obtain support for his fledgling program -- often despite the powers that dominated the field -- and make it grow into a national model.

A Painful Childhood

Patrick Lavelle Gogerty was born on September 12, 1929, in Sprague River, Oregon, to Roy Emmanuel (1892-1956) and Frances Virginia (Griffin) Gogerty (1905-1965), who were visiting from Seattle with Roy’s father. The family soon returned to the Seattle area, where they lived and where Pat Gogerty has resided ever since, except for a stint in the army. Roy was a rail worker and an alcoholic who was frequently abusive to his family, including wife and the five boys they would eventually have. Gogerty’s mother, who went by the name Virginia, was an itinerant fortune teller who traveled by bus up and down the West Coast to ply her trade.

At the age of eight, young Pat was told to sit on the floor of the car while his parents took him for a drive. He didn’t know he was going to a foster home, where he would be left for over a year. His parents didn’t want him to see where they were going so he couldn’t find his way back, Gogerty said. The foster home was an 80-acre farm in the Kent Valley. There, he attended grade school in a one-room schoolhouse. Later, he was retrieved by his parents and returned to Seattle and to the same abusive environment.

“My father would come home drunk at night and beat my mother,” Pat said in an interview. “One time he kicked a friend downstairs.” This kind of behavior persisted, until Pat, at 16, had had enough. “My father came home angry and was going to hit someone, probably my mother. I said no, not today.”

Fighting Back

Pat Gogerty’s punch broke several of his father’s ribs and sent him to the hospital, prompting his mother to tell Pat that he would have to leave. He then stayed with his maternal grandmother and his Aunt Ruth, who became a lasting influence in his life.

Later, Gogerty would wonder if his lashing out at his father had some influence in disarming his anger:

“I always wonder why some people who are abused get into an abusive cycle and others get out of it and function in society ... Most people don’t get a chance to resolve it the way I did, by fighting back”

Schooling and the Boys Club

Gogerty’s schooling came in fits and starts. He went to O’Dea, which was run by the Christian Brothers, who practiced corporal punishment too much for his taste. He ended up escaping by a fire escape and not returning. About the Brothers, he said, “I feel like the Irishman on his death bed who is asked by the priest, `Have you renounced the devil and all his ways?’ Whereupon the Irishman says, `Frankly Father, at this point I can’t afford to alienate anyone.’”

The Boys Club of Seattle became Gogerty’s refuge and surrogate family. He took out his frustrations in sports, such as boxing and basketball, even breaking into the club on Saturdays and Sundays to shoot hoops. He was respectful of the club, however, and its adult leaders “were big figures in my life.”

While attending Lincoln High School, Gogerty got a job as a soda jerk at GO Guy Drug and later worked as a riveter at Boeing, claiming to be 18 rather than 17. He graduated from high school in 1949 and was drafted into the army in 1950. He was sent to Germany, rather than Korea, where he already had two brothers, Dan and Jerry, fighting on the front. Gogerty eventually served as a psychiatric social worker, helping disturbed soldiers, at what would become Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. He was influenced by his superior, Captain Irving Salan, who was a Freudian analyst.

Finding a Social Service Focus

At the time, Gogerty did not want to go into social services as a career, favoring work in physical education and coaching. He returned to Seattle and went to work for the Boys Club. He took courses at the University of Washington and then switched to Seattle University, where he studied theology and psychology. He said that SU, with its Jesuit roots, was the better place to “understand the role of religion in my life.”

Gogerty left college just short of having enough credits for his psychology major. He married and put his brother Bob through high school. In 1956, he got a job with Ryther Child Center, named after Mother Olive Ryther, a pioneer in Seattle’s child care history. Gogerty worked for four years there with emotionally disturbed children in what he described as “the model program on the West Coast” at the time.

He went on to work during the summers at the State of Washington’s Mission Creek Youth Forestry Camp, near Belfair, Washington. This was a part of the state system for disturbed and delinquent youth, a camp that used work in the forests as a form of therapy. During the off season, Gogerty would work in construction. He recalled:

“This was like a sabbatical for me ... When you work with disturbed youth, change is very incremental and often you can only see the result when you don’t see the person you worked with go to prison. With construction, you can really see the result of your effort.”

Troubled Young People

Gogerty also worked for five years with troubled young people at Luther Burbank School on Mercer Island. The school had just become part of the state system and Bob Gogerty, who worked there along with Pat, recalled Pat’s cabin as being the rowdiest of the three cabins because he believed that a certain amount of “acting out” was necessary to treatment.

The Gogerty brothers also saw how many of their charges, who were about 6 or 7  years old, came from abusive or neglectful homes and how that kind of violence was manifested in their own behavior. If allowed to continue, it would usually propel them on into the next layer of the state system from where, often, there was no way back. It seemed to them that better treatment was essential.

Entering Politics

This frustration came to a head in the early 1960s, ignited by the idealism of John F. Kennedy and the tragedy of his assassination in 1963. Then, in 1964, the Gogerty brothers watched as the legislature failed to pass legislation that would have helped abused children.  That led to their first foray into politics, a failed campaign for the House in Washington’s 48th Legislative District. They did everything from writing and folding direct mail to grassroots organizing, according to Bob. Their candidate, Dave Warmuth, a journalist, won the primary but was defeated by Al Kneeland.

Over the years, in addition to his other work, Pat Gogerty developed his skills as a pollster and volunteered these skills to campaigns. This helped him develop connections with politicians, who appreciated his insights. His brother Bob noted, "That’s the hallmark of Pat’s career ... He always kept one foot in the political side."

Caring for Kids

In 1973, Pat Gogerty became executive director of Seattle Day Nursery, which had been founded in 1909 as one of first 50 childcare programs in the country by the Reverend Mark Matthews (1867-1940). The mission of the childcare program at the time was to provide care to the children of mothers who were unfortunate enough (in the view of the times) to have to work.

Gogerty, who had just remarried, brought renewed energy to the program and gradually came to the conclusion that the organization needed a new mission. He later explained:

"In 1975, I realized that, out of 60 kids, 35 were under investigation by the state as potentially being abused or neglected ... Most daycare centers wouldn’t accept angry or uncooperative children and sent them to Seattle Day. At the time the primary view was that the care of kids belonged with the parents and should not be major concern of society. People didn’t get the connection that the kids who later got in trouble had difficult lives at home. I came to the conclusion that we needed to intervene early, to prevent the cycle from continuing."

While observing St. Patrick’s Day with his brother Bob, he laid out his plan. Bob recalled:

"Pat told me he was going to change the nature of Seattle Day Nursery ... He said he would focus on abused infants, not taking them out of the home, but giving them a safe place to be during the day. At the same time, he would get the parent -- usually there was only a single mother in the home -- into a treatment program where they could understand how to really be a parent."

By 1976, Seattle Day Nursery was taking large numbers of infants who were “living in injurious conditions,” as Pat put it. He went to work on developing funding for a more aggressive treatment program. “The state would only provide funding for about a 1-to-12 staff-to-child ratio. We needed more like one on one.”

Gogerty applied for and received a grant for a pilot program from the United Way. He also turned to his brother Bob, who was now deputy Seattle mayor. Bob Gogerty was able to tap a federal program based on the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act of 1973 (CETA), designed to train unemployed workers and provide them with jobs in public service. He secured 10 workers for Pat Gogerty’s program

Identifying Abused Toddlers

Gogerty began to work with the state Office of Child Protective Services to identify abused children less than two years of age. Many times parents wouldn’t or couldn’t bring their children in, so Gogerty procured a van and began picking up the children from their homes.

“Six months in I had case workers beating down the door wanting to get their clients in the program,” Gogerty remembered.

But Gogerty realized that anecdotal stories were not enough to procure more government and charitable funding. So, in 1979, he successfully lobbied the legislature to establish a program for assessment of childcare programs. He then worked with a researcher from Colorado to design a study that followed 60 children, 30 randomly selected from Seattle Day Nursery programs and 30 who received ordinary state services. In a 10-year follow-up, the children from his program were a third as likely to be in trouble with the law as the other children.

Hard Times at Home

During this period, Gogerty’s personal life hit a rocky patch. He had been commuting from Sultan where, at the request of his wife, he had been living on a farm. In November 1979, his wife left him. He then became the single parent of their three children: Patrick, 4; Hattie, 6; and Rodney, 8. Later, his ex-wife became depressed, turned to alcohol, and eventually committed suicide, adding to Gogerty’s parental responsibilities.

He continued to commute from Sultan for five more years, making his workday essentially 12 hours long. In 1980, he lost a race for state senate and, disappointed, never ran for public office again.

Meanwhile, thanks to Gogerty’s continued efforts and persuasive abilities, his program began to prosper. It also began to receive national attention. In 1984, it was written up in a major spread for Life magazine. Even so, the name Seattle Day Nursery had begun to seem inappropriate to Gogerty. In 1985, the program officially changed its name to Childhaven.

Childhaven's Work

Some of Childhaven’s success could be put down to luck. According to a 1997 Seattle Times article by Carey Quan Gelertner, Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority chose Childhaven as a cause to support and one of the sorority sisters, Lou Lovsted, eventually became president of the board. She convinced her cousin, Harriet Shrontz to become involved. She just happened to be married to Frank Shrontz, a Boeing vice president who eventually became CEO. Frank Shrontz encouraged other Boeing employees to support Childhaven and Boeing’s law firm Perkins Coie began to do Childhaven’s legal work for free.

Not everyone was uniformly supportive. Many times officials in the state Department of  Social and Health Services (DSHS) questioned whether Childhaven was using more than its share of resources. And some were critical of Gogerty for his use of friends in high places.

In 1985, when Congress threatened to cut off funds for Childhaven, Gogerty called on his longtime friend, Representative Jim McDermott, who took to the House floor waving the Life magazine with the Childhaven article in it. He told the story of a child the program had saved. The child had broken his arm from trying to save a brother, whom the mother had put in the dryer for wetting his pants. Congress relented and Childhave retained its funding.

Over the years, the tension with DSHS persisted. In 1995, they came to a head when Lauria Grace, a 3-year-old who had been in treatment at Childhaven, was suffocated by her mother. The mother had kept the toddler at home from Childhaven, strapped her down and stuffed a sock in her mouth. Despite warnings in frequent phone calls and faxes from Childhaven that the child was in danger, the state caseworker had not intervened. Childhaven staff, including Gogerty, were painfully disappointed that the caseworker was not fired and that the judge blamed "the system."

Gogerty retorted to the media, "People failed. You talk about systems failing when your computer doesn't work. A child died here."

Before Gogerty retired in March 1998, he was recognized for his accomplishments in a Seattle Times editorial. The headline read "Fighting for Kids Unable to Fight for Themselves."

"Maybe the meaning of life," the article quoted him, “is to live as live as decently and kindly as you can.” The editorial opined that he had succeeded at living by that philosophy.

Even after retiring, Gogerty remained involved in politics by providing his brother Bob's firm, Gogerty Stark Marriott, with frequent political and opinion research analysis. He lived on Vashon Island near Seattle with his wife and former Childhaven colleague Maggie Kennedy. Two years after the death of his brother Bob in 2014, Pat Gogerty died at age 86 in 2016.


“The History of Childhaven,” Childhaven website accessed June 12, 2007 (http://www.childhaven.org/new/next.php?id=395); Carey Quan Gelernter, “Pat Gogerty, A Determined Journey to Childhaven: A Tireless Advocate for Kids Who Made the Best of His Own Abusive Childhood is Retiring From the Agency He Led to Prominence," The Seattle Times, December 14, 1997, p. L-1; "Fighting For Kids Unable To Fight For Themselves" (editorial), The Seattle Times, December 16, 1997, p. B-4; Historylink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Ryther, Mother Olive (1849-1934)"  (by Mildred Andrews) http://historylink.org  (accessed July 6, 2007); Patrick McRoberts interviews with Pat Gogerty, June 21, 2007, Seattle; Patrick McRoberts interview with Robert Gogerty, June 15, 2007, Seattle; Erik Lacitis, "Pat Gogerty, Founder of Childhaven, Dies at 86," The Seattle Times, August 31, 2016 (www.seattletimes.com).
Note: This essay was updated on September 1, 2016.

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