Vera Katz, who helped turn Portland, Ore., into hipster haven, dies at 84

Katz was diagnosed with acute leukemia this month after undergoing dialysis for more than a dozen years following cancer treatment.

PORTLAND — Vera Katz, a Jewish refugee who was elected to three terms as Portland’s mayor and helped transform it from a sleepy backwater into a trendy city known for its public transit, eco-conscious design and live-work architecture style, died Monday. She was 84.

Mayor Katz was diagnosed with acute leukemia this month after undergoing dialysis for more than a dozen years following cancer treatment.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden called Mayor Katz an “indomitable woman” who left a lasting impact on Oregon and its largest city. She also served as first female speaker of the Oregon House.

A visionary urban planner with the ability to reach across the aisle, Mayor Katz oversaw plans for the internationally known Pearl District and neighborhoods along the Willamette River that changed the city into a hipster haven and international tourist destination.

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A champion of the arts, Mayor Katz also oversaw construction of Lan Su Yuan, an intricate Suzhou-style Chinese garden in the heart of the city’s old town that draws visitors from around the world.

“Vera Katz was more than a pioneer. She was a force. She escaped the Nazis. She battled cancer. She ran the House. She ran the city. She was a natural leader. Vera led and people followed,” said Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney. “Oregon has lost a great human being.”

Mayor Katz was born Vera Pistrak to Russian exiles in Düsseldorf, Germany, on Aug. 3, 1933, just as the Nazis were seizing power. When she was an infant, her family escaped to Paris and then, when she was 7, the family crossed the Pyrenees by foot into Spain.

She arrived in America on a Greek steamboat and grew up as a poor refugee in New York City.

“My mom was the embodiment of the American dream: coming with nothing…

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