April 19, 2018

Kathy Leeds | Movers & Shakers 2006

Operation Respect


Kathy Leeds has been building community in the town of Wilton for over 30 years, as a dedicated volunteer in schools and civic and cultural organizations and now as library director. One of the things she loves about libraries is the way they build community – both inside the library with staff members and volunteers and outside, among its residents.

One library-sponsored event Leeds created drew in virtually every Wilton citizen: the children who wrote poems about Wilton’s environment, local composer Chris Brubeck who set the winning poems to music, all the school choirs and adult choral groups that sang it, and Wilton’s amateur musicians and nearby symphony members who performed it. The event generated enormous public goodwill and contributions for the library expansion, as did sales of CDs and videotapes of the performance and books of the children’s poems by the Friends’ group. Brubeck says, ‘It will be remembered as the most involving artistic event to ever take place in Wilton.’

Leeds will be remembered most, however, for the way she helped Wilton respond to crisis. When racist and homophobic slurs were discovered on lockers at the high school in 2004, the community’s sense of itself was threatened. Leeds immediately met with representatives from local churches, government, high school, and youth organizations to craft a response called Operation Respect. ‘It affirmed a core value more appropriately than the word tolerance,’ Leeds says.

She called on community leaders, who selected films centering on discrimination, and led community discussions afterward of issues raised by them. A female rabbi, for instance, discussed anti-Semitism, and an Episcopal priest led a dialog about homophobia. Leeds also organized a ‘One Book, One Community’ program using To Kill a Mockingbird.

Leeds’s work to restore the community’s self-respect resulted in awards, a new prominence for the library, and a substantial increase in contributions to the library’s building fund (a greatly expanded building is in progress). Begun as a crisis response, Operation Respect continues today. As Leeds says, ‘Prejudice is not an isolated incident. It’s widespread. Ours is an ongoing, proactive, and dedicated response, an effort to raise awareness.’



Current Position Director, Wilton Library Association, CT
Degrees MLS, Syracuse University, 1997
Awards The Connecticut Award for Excellence in Public Library Service for ‘Operation Respect’
Who knew? Known to many as the Cat Lady