Mom, activist, diplomat: YWCA to honor Bryson's achievements

There’s a four letter word worse than those that immediately come to mind, Natalie Bryson is fond of saying.

The word is fear — something she has fought since her two sons were infected with HIV and later died of complications from AIDS.

“The stigma that comes with that illness is inaccurate,” Bryson said. “It is not a stigma. It is a blessing to be given the gift of understanding.”

Bryson has worked to counter fear with community activism. She is president of the Kitsap County HIV/AIDS Foundation and has served on the board of OUTKitsap, the Pride Foundation and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG).

“If you can overcome fear, you can make real human rights progress,” Bryson said.

AIDS and human rights advocacy are just part of Bryson’s history of volunteerism. The Olympic View resident will be honored for her work on Tuesday, April 23, during the YWCA’s annual Women of Achievement banquet.

“We see all (16 Women of Achievement) as important to helping our community become strong and grow. It’s a joy to see we have so many people who care about our community,” YWCA executive director Linda Joyce said.

Bryson could be Silverdale’s unofficial mayor. She serves on the Central Kitsap Community Council and became the first female member of the Silverdale Rotary Club in 1987. She is a founding member and current vice president of the Paul Linder Educational Foundation, which raises money to support educational opportunities for Central Kitsap School District students and staff members.

That’s just the beginning.

Beside being a mother of six, Bryson said her proudest accomplishment was being among 23 Americans invited to China when President Jimmy Carter opened diplomatic relations with the communist nation in 1979. She was chosen for the honor because of her affiliation with the China Trade Museum in Milton, Mass., and has returned 18 times.

“I’ve had an interest in China since childhood,” said Bryson, who has retained a characteristic New England accent while living in Kitsap County since 1966, “particularly Chinese ceramics.”

She worked as a public relations representive for a international travel firm for years, and has traveled to all seven continents. When she retired, she became a full-time volunteer.

“My education has been learning about life through my boys’ illnesses, and how life affects other people. I also learned that people can make a difference in some way,” Bryson said.

Bryson becomes irked when people complain about politics and community decisions, but don’t bother to participate or show up to crucial meetings.

Her philosophy of community service is “that with even a small amount of effort, you can make a difference in your community. Participation enables you to be part of the solution, instead of the problem.”

Bryson was born in Weymouth, Mass., and lived in the same house until the day she married. Her mother was a woman of Victorian values, who sang like an opera star and was a political columnist and writer, Bryson said. Her father was a teacher who also played the ukelele and the banjo for the family.

“That combination of Yankee wisdom and Victorian culture was really a blessing,” Bryson said.

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