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In Memory of Sarah Nash Gates

Submitted by Sam Read on December 7, 2015 - 2:13pm
  • Sarah Nash Gates Endowed Graduate Student Support Fund
  • Sarah Nash Gates (Photo: Chris Bennion)
    Sarah Nash Gates (Photo: Chris Bennion)
  • Melanie Taylor Burgess & Sarah Nash Gates (Photo: Mike Hipple)
    Melanie Taylor Burgess & Sarah Nash Gates (Photo: Mike Hipple)
  • Sarah Nash Gates & her horse, Pizazz
    Sarah Nash Gates & her horse, Pizazz

There are people who come into this world that shine a light.

We all have those people in our lives, that certain teacher, or mentor, or friend who took the time to see us and through their guidance and support opened up doors of possibility for our own personal growth.

Sarah Nash Gates was that person for so many people. When we lost her to cancer on Friday evening, it felt as though a radiant and beautiful light was extinguished. But, what happened in the hours that followed was extraordinary. People from all over the country took to sharing their stories. They were paying tribute to this woman who made time for them and, in ways both large and small, altered their trajectory. Sarah’s light was glowing brighter and more majestic than ever!

To say that Sarah had a profound impact on the School of Drama and the Seattle theatre community does not do her justice. For more than thirty years, Sarah served our community as an educator, a mentor, a leader, a designer, a producer, a patron, and, most importantly, an unfaltering champion of the artists and students with whom she worked. Her devotion to the field of theatre, to her work, and to the people in her life was unparalleled. It was this sense of service that led her to becoming our executive director for 20 years, to serving three years as president of the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA), to serving as the first female president of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) from 1991-1994, to being a founding board member of Theatre Puget Sound and, most recently, stepping out of retirement to serve as Interim Divisional Dean of the Arts at the University of Washington.

Ultimately, these titles are not Sarah’s crowning achievement. For though she knew the importance of leadership and had an uncanny ability at assessing the big picture and advocating on behalf of her school, her university, and the field, Sarah also knew that real change and real impact took place in small moments between individuals. That is why Sarah’s true crowning achievement (as long-time friend and colleague Valerie Curtis-Newton put it) was simply “showing up.” So many of the stories surfacing after Sarah’s death have been about a woman who made the time to listen, to share advice, to express support, to learn, and to give. For so many people, these moments proved to be a beacon of light on their trajectory as artists and human beings.

These stories are from former students, fellow artists, faculty members, board members, staff members, donors, friends, and family. They are uplifting and overwhelming and paint a portrait of a smart, sassy, witty, and creative force of nature whose love and generosity shone brighter than the sun. And though we are all mourning Sarah’s death, it is such a beautiful thing to see that her light is shining brighter than ever through the lives of all of those she touched.

Sarah, thank you for showing up and for always having an open door! In your time here, you made so many lives just that much brighter.

Sarah Nash Gates passed away at 10:38pm on Friday, December 4, 2015 after a short battle with brain and lung cancer.

A memorial is being planned in her honor and will take place February 1 at 6pm in Meany Hall on the UW campus. More details will be announced soon.

Sarah's family encourages donations be made in her memory to The Sarah Nash Gates Endowed Graduate Student Support Fund and the Sarah Nash Gates Endowed Production Support Fund. These funds can be accessed at

Sarah Nash Gates was a member of the faculty of the School of Drama at the University of Washington for 30 years.  In 1994 she became Executive Director of the School and served in that position until her retirement in June 2014. While at the School of Drama, she taught costume design and costume history. Sarah was a well-respected costume designer and member of United Scenic Artist local 829.  She designed for 5th Avenue Theatre, A Contemporary Theatre, Denver Center Theatre Company, Intiman Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pennsylvania Opera Theatre, the Aspen Music Festival, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Children's Theatre, Seattle Opera, Pacific Performance Project and Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus.  Sarah served as president of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) from 1991-1994. She was the first woman and the first costume designer to hold that office. Sarah also served three years as President of the University/Resident Theatre Association (U/RTA). Here in Seattle she was a founding board member of Theatre Puget Sound, and also served on the board of the 5th Avenue Theatre.