You can never fool an animal or a small child.
Everyone, it seems, was fond of Kathleen “Kit” Rafferty, a Miami union organizer who fought for decades for labor, civil and women’s rights.
But the four-legged and the tiny might have loved her best.
“Ever heard the phrase, ‘Trust the instincts of dogs and small children’ because neither of them can be deceived? Even cats clamored for her! You just knew she was genuinely a good person,” said friend, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman.
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Rafferty died on Dec. 17 at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables of a lung infection. She was 72. As her friend Kian Frederick wrote in her tribute, “From mobile home park residents and union workers to county commissioners and federal judges, if you live in Miami and fight for economic equality, labor rights, affordable housing, climate justice, women’s rights, prison reform or animal rights, chances are you knew Kit Rafferty.”
Indeed, as recently as January 2015, Rafferty, executive director of the advocacy group South Florida Voices for Working Families, worked to help workers laid off during the recession find jobs at suitable wages and hours. “It’s a daily struggle for these folks,” she told the Miami Herald.
In March 2014, Rafferty joined about 30 protesters outside a Biscayne Boulevard McDonald’s in a demonstration she called One Miami Now and Fight for $15 Florida. “We are here to stand with the workers so they can have a union and a $15-an-hour job,” she said in a Herald story.
“She was a champion of social justice and championed the underdog,” Heyman said, “but my favorite relationship with her was just her love of animals. When I introduced her for whatever role she ever had it was as ‘Puppy Nanny.’”
Rafferty was born Feb. 4, 1943, in the Riverdale section of the Bronx in New York City. Her passion for activism was ingrained early largely thanks to her mother. “My mom was a chief editor for Dell Publishing and it started out at a young age with Kit. She was kind of almost by her side, which was very unusual at that time. Most executives didn’t really show off they had a kid and brought the kid to work. That was cutting edge back then in the 1940s,” said her brother, Jim Rafferty.
She was the oldest, a generation apart from her late sister and brother, but the kind of older sister who looked out for her younger siblings, Jim Rafferty said. “She loved baseball and she taught me to love the Kingston Trio. I remember her being extremely excited that she was a stewardess for Eastern Airlines. We like solving problems and we like to work really hard. I see a lot of Kit in my daughters.”
After earning a degree in English at Monmouth College in Illinois, Rafferty joined Eastern Airlines as a flight attendant in 1968. Back then, the positions were called stewardesses and the women were required to weigh-in pre-flight and were no longer permitted to work if they married or had children.
Rafferty, working through her union, fought through the 1970s to help repeal those rules. Her career with Eastern lasted for more than 20 years until it ceased operations in 1991.
After Eastern, Rafferty began working as a union organizer, was involved in Democratic Party politics, served on the Miami-Dade Commission for Women and, in 2010, founded South Florida Voices for Working Families. And when she laughed, friends say, she had the most infectious laugh imaginable.
“Everyone talks about her Irish wit. She was the smartest thing and could take any situation and just make you laugh,” Frederick said. “A very generous spirit but very directed, loyal and committed to a core set of beliefs.”
Rafferty is survived by her brother. A celebration of life will be from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at IBT, Local 769, Union Hall, 12365 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami. Donations in her name can be made to her organization at www.sfvoices.org.
She was a champion of social justice…and her love for animals. When I introduced her for whatever role she had it was as ‘Puppy Nanny’
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman