Deceased October 30, 2019
With great sadness, I share the news of the death of our classmate Kathy Knox, who passed away peacefully at her family home in New Canaan, Conn., on Oct. 30, 2019.
Kathy will be remembered for so many things: her snappy wit, keen intellect, wicked humor, great writing, head-tossed-back laughing, incredible fashion sense, memory like a steel trap. As her roommate for two years and her friend for 32, I can say that, more than anything, Kathy was—despite a frail appearance—phenomenally tough. She got dealt a bunch of bad cards in the game of life and yet she was so strong. In all the years I knew her, only once did I ever hear her say, “It’s so hard!” (And even then, it was only in a moment of acute heartbreak over a totally unworthy guy.)
Kathy spent her childhood on Long Island, in Hong Kong and in New Canaan. A voracious reader from a very early age, she lost sight in one eye at age 9 and in the other several years later. Her mother passed away when she was 15. Despite these terrible losses, Kathy excelled in high school and headed to Amherst, freshly bonded with her first guide dog, Kielly.
In addition to the usual challenges, college life offered Kathy some unusual ones. The Amherst campus boasts a remarkable number of diverging paths, not to mention a lot of squirrels, which Kielly, regrettably, found very distracting. In winter, snow obscured the dips and bumps in the paths that served as Kathy’s landmarks. And even the best dog could not have guided her safely over icy patches. Negotiating the dining hall was a mobility nightmare: crowds and clatter; the dog lunging after tidbits lost under the salad bar; no means to scan the humming hall to find a familiar face at a table with a free spot.
But Kathy loved her time at Amherst. She always had her antennae out. She could chat with you over lunch and simultaneously take in the conversation at the tables all around. It was uncanny. Nearly everyone on the campus from 1987–91 probably knew Kathy at least by sight. And even if you never had occasion to get to know her any better than that, chances are still high that by graduation she knew not only your voice, but where you lived on and off campus, who your friends were, maybe your major. In the days when facebook was the name of a little booklet with pictures in it and the internet didn't exist, Kathy already managed to be an amazing trove of information.
After graduating from Amherst with a major in history, Kathy completed a master’s in journalism at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. Fed up by then with “the moon boots and the snow,” she decided to get herself to somewhere with no winter, a grid layout and good public transportation. She moved to San Francisco’s Fillmore Street neighborhood and lived there with a series of guide dogs for 23 years.
Kathy held various jobs in the public and non-profit sector in the Bay Area and wrote and spoke publicly to advocate for people with disabilities. For several years she commuted out to Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif., where she was manager of corporate and foundation gifts. (Guide Dogs also gave Kathy her wonderful third dog, Thai, a magnificent black lab who shared a decade of her life in San Francisco.)
Drawing on her first-hand experiences of the Bay Area buses and trains, Kathy served for five years as vice president of the Public Transportation Commission of the City and County of San Francisco. In addition, she was a long-term member of the Board of Directors of the LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She lived with her finger on the pulse of the city, attended musical and literary events, joined writing groups and built up a huge network of friends and colleagues.
Kathy had an extremely rare genetic connective tissue disorder, so rare that she didn’t even have a proper diagnosis until a few years ago. (In 2013 she emailed: “Oh, I almost forgot. First genetic test from hospital is back. Drumroll. I don’t have Marfan’s. Whatever I do have remains to be seen!") In addition to vision loss from retinal detachment, she suffered numerous other health complications throughout her life. In 2005 she underwent major surgery to treat an aneurysm of her aorta. Despite years of outstanding care at the Center for Marfan Syndrome and Related Aortic Disorders at Stanford as well as another surgery in 2013, the aneurysm continued to enlarge. 2017 was a very rough year for her—and for her amazing dad, who supported her tirelessly through all her health crises. After a long and debilitating hospitalization, Kathy left San Francisco to live with her family in Connecticut.
Ultimately, Kathy made a conscious and incredibly courageous decision against further surgical treatment of her aorta. It was definitely a case of choosing between a gigantic rock and a very hard place. As she told me in 2018, “My doctors at Stanford have basically said, ‘We don’t expect you to be alive two years from now.’” Those not-quite two years had their ups and downs, but true to form, Kathy was a trooper, fretting most over the worsening health of her beloved fourth and last guide dog.
Kathy turned 50 on July 15, 2019, and celebrated her life with friends and family at gatherings in both New Canaan and San Francisco.
She is survived by her father and stepmother, Barry and Christine Knox, and her retired guide dog, Gage. Her mother, Doris Ward Knox, and her brother Michael predeceased her.
Rebecca Poage ’91
Video of Kathy from Commencement 1991