I participated in the annual One Night Count of unsheltered people in King County in the early morning hours of Jan. 25. Hundreds of volunteers participate each year to count and witness. Each year I’ve done the Count I’ve been dispatched with other volunteers to city streets, green spaces, parks and under-passes.
Never had my team or any One Night Count team encountered a dead body. Until this year.
After checking under the south side of the Jose Rizal Bridge and moving behind the industrial buildings at Rainier and Dearborn, we walked south on Rainier. We were bundled up brandishing flashlights and clipboards, chatting bleary-eyed about the news of the day while quietly musing about whether lean-to’s, sleeping bags and camper vans were occupied or not. While walking the south green space encircled by the Rainier Ave. S. off-ramp from Interstate 90, members of my team found a body, partially clothed, that had been there a day or so. We had spread out to check that area and I was closer to Rainier. When the finders came over to join the rest of us none of us quite caught what they said the first time. “We found a body.” What? It’s 3:30 a.m., what did you say? None of us expected to find anyone in that area. It’s relatively open with a few fir trees, but no place to hunker down really.
The team leaders did a great job managing the next steps – calling the police, checking in with the rest of the team members, comforting the woman who first found the body. The team decided to continue on searching our assigned area because, as more than one person said, this is exactly why we count. One Night Count staff arranged to have trained counselors back at the Compass Center for anyone who wanted to talk about what happened.
A couple of days after the Count we learned more from the Medical Examiner. “The Body,” as we had called it, was a 60-year old woman named Kathryn Ann Blair and she died of hypothermia. In the cloverleaf petal of an interstate off-ramp. In February. In Seattle.
I’ve thought a lot about this experience over the past week and a half. I couldn’t help but wonder who Kathryn Ann Blair was and how she got to be where we found her. Everyone has a story. Sometimes the story helps us focus on our similarities and fragility. Sometimes the story helps us make a little bit of sense out of something seemingly senseless. Thanks to the Medical Examiner’s efforts to reach Kathryn Ann Blair’s relatives, members of my Count team received the following message yesterday. It will be shared at today’s Women in Black vigil, noon-1 p.m., on the west plaza of the Municipal Court building (Fifth and James). Women in Black stand Wednesdays to mark the death of homeless people in our area. They have to stand too often and too long.
Eulogy for Kathryn Ann Blair, 1952–2013
Kathy Blair, a creative only child, spent most of her life in Akron, Ohio, living with her mother.
While I do not have the skill to tell Kathy’s story as well as she could have, I want you to know that Kathryn Ann Blair had a beautiful face, thick, wavy hair, big brown eyes, lots of personality, many talents, and people who loved her.
Kathy was a talented writer and spent hours working on stories and making whimsical drawings of the characters. She loved books and enjoyed spending time in libraries and bookstores. Kathy adored cats, keeping three or more at any one time. At age 10, Kathy was chosen for the role of Helen Keller at Akron’s Weathervane Playhouse. She loved that role and lived to perform in local theatres. After high school, Kathy earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Kent State University.
Kathy was my closest childhood friend—we walked to school together and spent hours talking on the phone. However, it was not until 2001 that she told me her father had sexually abused her throughout her childhood.
Kathy began drinking heavily while still in high school and became dependent on alcohol well before reaching age 30. Kathy was still a young woman when she began showing signs of mental illness and was eventually diagnosed as having schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. These illnesses plagued Kathy for the rest of her life.
Kathy had no children. She lived with her mother, Jean Blair, until Jean died several years ago.
After Jean’s death, Kathy continued living in the mobile home they had purchased in 1970. She found living on her own to be difficult and lonely. In 2010, Kathy decided to act on her dream of living on the West Coast. She said goodbye to her friends and cats and traveled to San Francisco, where she briefly lived in her own apartment. Feeling dissatisfied, Kathy moved to Seattle in 2011, hoping to find happiness and artistic friends. Instead, she found herself alone and homeless.
Sexual abuse, alcoholism, mental illness and homelessness all contributed to Kathy’s horrible death from hypothermia.
On January 14, I sent Kathy a final (unanswered) text, “I hope you are warm and safe. Love, Deb.”
My parents, Chet and Alice, my husband, Ken, our daughter, Rebecca, and I, thank each of you for bringing our friend in from the cold and remembering her in this special way.
–D. F. K.