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Kathryn the Great
Saturday, 25 February, 2023 Filed in: TGIF
KATHRYN STOLLMEYER WIGHT died last week and no other human being in my direct or indirect experience has ever been more widely and deeply loved. Forget David Bowie, Black Stalin, Prince, Nelson Mandela, Robin Williams, Princess Diana your granny and all the popes. Only Bob Marley and John Lennon provoked an outpouring of love and appreciation from as widespread a cross-section of people as Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight.
And Kath never wrote Imagine or Is This Love.
Since she slipped away from us last week Thursday, our newspapers and social media have been filled with stories about a woman with almost no public profile. She once managed one minor politician’s election campaign but, otherwise, she was a genuine nobody.
And yet Newsday has continuously refreshed its story about her passing. Not one person has said something negative about her (although I learned long ago never to read any “Comments” section: that is where serial murderers go to start honing their psychopathic chops before they move on to torturing small animals).
I say she slipped away but her death was far from gentle: pulmonary fibrosis attacks the lungs like a Putin convicted murderer mercenary attacks a Ukrainian civilian. It is an extremely painful way to go.
Five years ago, Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight was given two years to live and, for too much of her last five years, she literally gasped for breath. In her final weeks, her only indispensable fashion accessory was the oxygen tank that made her daylong scramble for breath, not easier, but marginally less laborious. Unless you have felt the panic rising in your chest because you’re not sure if the breath you’re taking will be your last, you can’t appreciate the mental suffering involved.
And, in-between those frightening gasps for the very breath of life, her eyes would twinkle and Kath would overcome her coughing fit and come up with something hilarious to say.
That could be her epitaph.
She was married to one of my oldest and truest friends, Gregory Wight (the second person ever to appear in my personality-based feature, Trini to the Bone, in Newsday every Monday). In their last few years as a couple, sad as the situation was, you’d consider yourself lucky to have witnessed the blossoming of a lifelong romance into a fully-fledged, eyes-wide-open love in the face of imminent death.
Every time I saw them during her certain passage into the grave, my heart broke for Gregors. The last year or so must have been like a cruelly extended childbirth labour for Gregory Wight, except there was no newborn at its end, only the death of the most central figure in his life.
Kath also left behind her three adult children, son-in-law and granddaughter as her direct family and, it seems, half of Trinidad and Tobago as her indirect one.
And this is why I loved Kathy Wight.
She personifies, for me, the notion behind every word I’ve ever written in this column over the last 35 years; it is the same impulse that drove me to continue pushing Trini to the Bone on reluctant editors in Trinidad, the best of whom point blank rejected the idea. Keith Smith, one of the most liberal editors I’ve ever had – he let me “interview”, as a serious hard news Q&A subjects, Jesus Christ, Santa Claus and God – could not process the idea of putting “ordinary” people in these pages. “This is a newspaper, BC,” he said. “If people don’t make the news, we can’t put them in a newspaper. Except the obituaries.”
Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight’s whole life – and even more so, her death – underlines my own conviction, and the only thing that rescues me from a permanent existential crisis of my own: that every single one of us has a story, whether or not we make the papers, in life or death. And that story is worth telling because it is our story: we lived; we were lucky to love and be loved. And then we vanished.
Kathy Wight would have lived for another generation, perhaps two, without ever being mentioned in Newsday because she lived in the only place that really matters: in our hearts and minds.
She loved her neighbour as herself.
It is no wonder that we all saw God in her.
BC Pires is a believer in the extra ordinary