A pioneer in the field of environmental justice, Ticiang Diangson died peacefully on January 29 at her home on Beacon Hill. The legacy of her work lives on in Seattle and in cities throughout the nation.
Born in Chicago in 1941 during the pre-civil rights era, Diangson experienced extensive racial intolerance as a half-Polish, half-Filipino child. This led to her lifelong passion for matters of social and racial justice. As a social worker, Diangson helped organize the first independent welfare workers’ union in the nation in Chicago in the mid 1960s and received a Wisconsin state award in 1974 for innovative programming for Native Americans to foster-parent Native children.
In 1974, she moved to the Puget Sound area because of its natural beauty and high degree of ecological awareness, and also to be part of a larger Asian Pacific community. Here she worked for seven years with at-risk youth and as Minority Affairs Coordinator for Shoreline College before joining Seattle City government in 1981.
Diangson’s 31 year career with the City focused on issues involving the environment and racial and social justice, with the two broader areas of concern gradually fusing. In her early years with City Light, she served as a home energy auditor and took notice of service disparities in different parts of the city. Later, she transferred to Seattle Public Utilities where she became the first outreach staff member and a major force behind the City’s recycling program. She served as editor of the Utilities’ award-winning newsletter and a leader of the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. Ultimately she was appointed the inaugural director of the Utilities Environmental Justice and Service Equity Division, a position she had long worked to create. She was the first person in the nation to hold such a position.
During all these years, Diangson worked tirelessly to ensure that the city’s poor, immigrants and refugees, and people of color were served equally and fully by Seattle Public Utilities. Her innovative ideas and strong leadership brought national recognition to Seattle as a leader and model of good government in recycling and racial and social as well as environmental justice.
Diangson was also an ardent community activist during her Seattle years, with much of her focus on Chinatown/International District and the South End. She was co-founder of the Asian Pacific Women’s Caucus in 1978 and the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice in 1992.
She received numerous awards over the years, including the 1992 SPU World Class Award for Diversity, 1993 First Place Award for Curb Waste Times from the National Association of Government Communicators Blue Pencil Competition, and in 2001 Mayor Paul Schell City of Seattle Award for valuing and managing diversity. Her community awards include the 2009 Empowered Women of Color Empowered Citizen Activist Award for her advocation of environmental Justice.
She held a BA in Social Science from the University of Chicago (1963), MSW from the University of Wisconsin (1972), and MA from Bastyr University’s Leadership Institute of Seattle in managing and consulting (1997).
A Renaissance woman, Diangson was a world traveler, an avid reader, a lifelong writer of poetry and fiction, a cartoonist, a crackerjack Scrabble player, and a skilled amateur jazz singer.
Diangson died of mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer which—with terrible irony—she probably contracted from exposure to asbestos during her time as an enthusiastic and idealistic young home energy auditor for City Light.
A Celebration of Ticiang Diangson’s Life will be held on her upcoming 74th birthday, March 15, 2015, from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Filipino Community Center at 5740 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Seattle.