I, too, met Kate on a September morning nearly 27 years ago. We were both entering St. Rose Grammar School as new students about to tackle the seventh grade, and more dauntingly we were facing off against a pack of uniformed 12-year olds who had seemingly known each other from birth. Unfortunately for me that was where our similarities seemed to end. By 1985 Kate was already beautiful, poised, witty, and over 5-feet tall. I was not. As Bridget so eloquently wrote a few weeks ago, Kate made this transition appear effortless, and as I think back to my first days on that playground I am blessed to have the indelible images of her gorgeous smile serve as my most vivid memory. It can be written now with a sense of inevitability that within two short years Kate would go on to be named "Most Popular" by her eighth grade peers, but I believe this accomplishment was indicative of how she would live the rest of her life. Kate, though endowed with an abundance of exceptional attributes, warmly welcomed all people into her life, treated them with kindness, and left them somehow better for having met her.
Having fast become best friends, or "BFFs" in grammar school parlance, we moved on to high school with the requisite optimism, yet also comforted by the notion that we would be taking these steps together. And once again, by the sheer force of her presence, loyalty and inclusiveness, I was pulled along with her for the journey. This was no small task for Kate as I had now added braces to my particular brand of awkwardness. I can easily say that those four years were some of the best of our lives, and the friends Kate and I made back then are the very same friends that continue to honor her legacy and advance the fight against blood cancers on her behalf. More than any words written on a page this abiding commitment by those who loved her serves as the most fitting tribute to the woman Kate was and the life she lived so fully. I have heard often over the years (decades!?) since we graduated high school that for most that was a tortured time laden with dread, and I always wonder how our time together could have been so antithetical to the common experience. Ultimately, it comes down to the relationships that we formed and/or cultivated and the experiences we shared. I think it is safe to say that for those of us who knew her best Kate played a starring role in our fondest memories. She was that special.
As time passed and growing up was all the rage, passing nine notes a day to one another was no longer possible. Anyway we had just done that for the past six years and we were far too mature for such behavior. So mature, in fact, that we would laugh uncontrollably at the sound of my brakes squealing in front of her apartment near LaSalle University before we would head out for $10 All-You-Can-Drink at The Bank. Yes, we had really decided to buckle down.
Eventually adulthood began to set in and as I attempted to start some semblance of a career, Kate's spirit demanded that she pursue the decidedly less mundane endeavor of seeing the world. And so she did. This bold act is emblematic of the vitality and fearlessness of the daughter, sister, niece, and friend we lost far too soon. Kate would fall ill in Sydney, Australia as she was fulfilling her dream, and over the ensuing 13 months she would exhibit more strength, dignity, and grace than I am capable of articulating.
On the day of Kate's funeral her younger sister Megan, then just a young girl herself struggling through the worst time of her life, handed me a folded piece of paper when I entered the Shea's home. It was a note, one of the hundreds of handwritten notes that Kate and I had passed back and forth during much better days. Prominently displayed were the letters "BFF." Yes, on the coldest December day I would ever feel I was reminded that Kate would always be my best friend and she would always be the prettiest girl in school.