She won’t admit it, but Natalie Bryson is a “community treasure.”
The long-time Kitsap County resident advocates equality, encourages HIV/AIDS awareness education, volunteers, shares, leads and loves.
For those reasons and more, about 125 supporters attended “An Evening Honoring Natalie Bryson” on Thursday, celebrating her work with pride — and ice cream — at Kitsap Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Bremerton.
In conjunction with the Kitsap County HIV/AIDS Foundation, the Pride Foundation organized the event, bringing together local dignitaries, friends and Bryson supporters.
“She’s a very dedicated person with a tremendous heart,” said friend Ann Lovell, who met Bryson 12 years ago. “There’s only one like her.”
Bryson’s community service reaches far and includes involvement with Kitsap County HIV/AIDS Foundation, the Pride Foundation, Silverdale Rotary, the Central Kitsap Community Council, PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), Kitsap Community Foundation, YWCA and more.
“Determination. As I thought about Natalie, that was the word that came to mind,” Pride Foundation member Audrey Haberman said, calling Bryson “incredibly generous,” “funny” and “warm.”
“The way she holds your hand, puts her arm around you … looks at you with those sparkling eyes,” Haberman added.
Bryson lost two sons to HIV/AIDS, one of whom battled the disease for 13 years. Those losses compelled her to spend the latter portion of her life helping others.
“I was blessed more than anyone I know with having been given unfinished business,” Bryson explained.
She joined the Kitsap County HIV/AIDS Foundation in 1999, taking over as president soon after, and led the foundation for eight years before retiring in 2007.
With only $31 to its name, Bryson built the foundation from the ground up, running it from her own dining room table.
“She’s brought the foundation from nothing to having a presence in Silverdale,” current president Paul Holzman said. “If somebody had a need and they called Natalie, she would drop everything.”
Simply selfless, as her supporters described Thursday, Bryson prefers to find positives in every situation.
“You really don’t have an awful lot of burdens,” she said. “I’ve been given gifts.”
She called Thursday’s celebration “unbelievable.”
“People have come who I haven’t seen in a long time,” Bryson said. “I’m with friends tonight, I know that I am.”
Lovell read aloud a letter written by Bryson’s children, who thanked their mother for being such a leader and encouraging them to volunteer in their respective communities.
“Mom is our inspiration and our guiding light,” the letter said.
Norm Dicks also sent a letter, which was read aloud, giving Bryson a “heartfelt thanks” for her dedication to Kitsap County.
“Our community appreciates your efforts,” Dicks wrote.
Despite the accolades, Bryson chose to compliment those around her, her friends, colleagues and family for being teachers.
“It was what they taught me, not what I taught them,” she said. “No one does this alone.”