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Kathryn Beall Kirk ’82

A picture of Kathryn Beall Kirk

Kathy Beall Kirk ’82 at the little library box she asked husband Alan Kirk ’84 to install outside their home.

Kathryn Beall Kirk ’82, October 23, 2014, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, from cancer.

In November, classmates gathered at Portland’s Lucky Lab Brew Pub to mourn and celebrate the life of Kathy Beall Kirk, beloved Beer Mama to a generation of early ’80s Reedies. Others attended the large memorial service held in November at Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School, where Kathy had taught English for nearly 30 years. The service was officiated by Holly Pruett ’85, who provided this memorial. 

The quintessential California girl, Kathy followed her brother Will Beall ’77 to Reed. She befriended nearly everyone. Along with making kegs appear on sunny days, and heading up RennFayre, Kathy hosted daily General Hospital viewings and birthed the party mantra, “Wake up, Old Dorm Block!” She was equally serious about scholarship. As tribute to her thesis on the influence of female characters in Shakespeare (“Assay the Power You Have”), her memorial included recitation of a Shakespearean sonnet and a keepsake bookmark featuring the wisdom Kathy personified: “To thine own self be true.” 

After earning her teaching credentials at Portland State University, Kathy drove east to marry Alan Kirk ’84. Several years later, they had twin sons, Roger and Gildon. For Kathy, twins were perfect: double the work, double the fun. Kathy remained the life of the party for her extended family on both coasts and a tight-knit circle of friends and professional colleagues in the Washington, D.C., area. Her teaching and leadership transformed the lives of countless students. “I was a math/science student all my life and thought English was a waste of time,” said one, “until I got to Ms. Kirk’s class, where she taught me that literature could hold the truth.”

A longtime colleague at Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School said at her memorial: “In some ways, gathering is an apt analogy for Kathy’s life. She met people and took them in—her college friends, her colleagues, her kids’ friends, her students. Especially her students. Kathy had more students who loved her and felt her warmth and kindness than any teacher I’ve ever known. And once you were hers, she didn’t let you go.”

Kathy is remembered as a rabid sports fan who gave literary recommendations to rival the best reference librarian; a risk taker who was up for whatever; the friend and mentor who could find the perfect present, make the perfect gesture,  and who knew just what to say to turn a bad situation around. She didn’t present different faces to different people or different versions of herself at various points in her life. She was herself —her genuine, optimistic, thoughtful, imaginative, deeply intelligent, intensely loving, and fun-loving self—with everyone.

In the seven months from diagnosis to demise, Kathy retired from the career she loved and focused on her family. In the last weekend of her life she traveled across country to attend her niece’s wedding. The bride memorialized Kathy on Facebook by noting: “This weekend, despite being in hospice care, she flew across the country and rocked out at my wedding. She danced, made s’mores, and made great memories with her entire family, without complaining once. To the end, she was all about her family, making others feel loved, and living life to the fullest.”

Kathy epitomized “attitude adjustment.” A colleague noted, “I always admired Kathy’s ability to get angry about something for two minutes, and then say ‘oh, well,’ and laugh that amazing laugh of hers. What a talent she had, to be able to let the bad stuff go!” She took that same approach to her terminal diagnosis. As her in-laws said, “In the last painful months of her life, she showed us how to do it—uncomplaining, courageous, and still thinking of others rather than herself.”

Those mourning Kathy’s untimely death will continue to hear the echo of her amazing laugh, and perhaps do as Felicia Value ’82 pledged when she heard the sad news: “Today I am going to try to be as kind as Kathy always, always was. Thanks for the example, old friend.”

Memorial donations can be made to the Kathy Kirk Scholarship Fund established by her family. Mail checks payable to Bethesda–Chevy Chase High School, Kathy Kirk Scholarship, 4301 East-West Highway, Bethesda, Maryland 20814.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2015

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