Kit Yarrow: A Life

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Kit Yarrow passed away on May 21, 2020 after a long and brave struggle with ovarian cancer. A light has left the world, but her glow will never fade.

Kit was born Sept. 17, 1958 in Rochester, NY. She was raised in upstate New York and moved with her family to Upper Arlington, Ohio, then Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin during high school. She attended the University of Wisconsin, where she earned a degree in journalism, and proudly supported herself through university as a waitress, which she often said taught her skills she used throughout her life.

In 1981, Kit relocated to Atlanta to be closer to her mother, Laura Faller. There she became the “searchlight queen” — if there was a searchlight scanning the skies, Kit was sure to be on the ground running some kind of promotion for radio station WARM, “Power 99.7,” where she was marketing director. One of the highlights of her marketing efforts was a party at the High Museum, where she populated the spiral staircase in the atrium with go-go dancers clad in white dresses. Kit always knew how to throw a party. She later moved to San Francisco with her husband John Carman, a television writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Kit bloomed on the West Coast and exhibited all the characteristics that would come to define her life — resilience, imagination, curiosity, generosity and luminescence. It was her curiosity about people and human nature that drove her to earn a PhD from the Wright Institute in Berkeley in 1992. She joined the faculty of Golden Gate University in San Francisco, where she established the Psychology Department with an emphasis on consumer behavior, a position where she had a large influence on thousands of students, eagerly sharing her passion for curiosity and learning. Her teaching skills extended well beyond Golden Gate University. She was a visiting professor at the Helsinki School of Economics and taught consumer behavior at leading universities around the world. She held the Russell Sharpe Chair at GGU’s School of Business and was honored as “Outstanding Scholar” and “Teacher of the Year.” She was a proud member of the American Psychological Association, for which she was consumer psychology spokesperson for more than a decade, and also a long-time member of the International Women’s Forum.

In 2008, Kit’s curiosity and imagination took a new turn. She conducted a number of clinical and field studies of “Gen Y,” or millennial, consumers to understand how they were reshaping the marketplace. She then teamed with USA Today reporter Jayne O’Donnell to write the groundbreaking book “Gen BuY: How Tweens, Teens and Twenty-Somethings Are Revolutionizing Retail” and developed a robust career as a lecturer, consultant, and media personality, appearing regularly in publications such as the New York Times, Ad Age, and Time, as well as national broadcast platforms such as Today, Good Morning America and NPR. Jeff Bell, an anchor at KCBS Radio in San Francisco, remembered that after an interview with Kit on air, he would turn to co-anchor Patti Reising and say off-mic, “Wow, she is just always so good!”

Kit always liked to say if one is good, two is better, so in 2014 she authored a second book, “Decoding the New Consumer Mind: How and Why We Shop and Buy,” that took a much broader look at how digital technologies and social forces are disrupting the retail marketplace. It was a major success and propelled her speaking career to new heights.

By now, Kit’s patterns of resilience, imagination and curiosity were on full display, having reinvented herself from a marketing director to professor to author to lecturer and consultant. It was in her personal life that her two other hallmarks — generosity and luminescence — shined brightly. Kit’s personal generosity took many forms. She liked to leave very large tips for waitresses, supported a number of nonprofits, and hosted lavish dinner parties where she made everyone feel like they were at the center of the table. She was always generous with her friends, listening attentively, offering advice when asked and always looking for an opportunity to share a laugh. She was particularly fond of the sisterhood she created through the International Women’s Forum and proud of the mentoring she provided to female students and colleagues navigating the gender gap. Perhaps her greatest single feat of generosity was meeting Russ Yarrow in 1998 (who would become her husband in 2003) and single-handedly and very gently putting his broken heart back together. It was a sign of Kit’s endless generosity that even in her final days she made sure everyone around her felt loved and recognized.

In 2015, Kit and Russ reinvented their life one last time and moved to Southport, North Carolina, where they built a home and a community of friends that provided her with love, sustenance and mercy throughout the final days of her life.

In the long battle that Kit fought against ovarian cancer, she never gave up. She raised more than $20,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance and in March of 2020, with most of her treatment options exhausted, traveled to Washington, DC with OCRA to lobby Congress for critically needed research funds to find a cure for this terrible disease. Kit touched the lives of so many people with her empathy, loyalty and humor. In the last months of her life, as friends reached out to thank her for their friendship, many used the same words to describe her — “light,” “bright,” “luminescent,” “a beacon.” Kit was a light; her physical presence has passed, but her light will always be bright in our hearts.

Kit is survived by her loving husband Russ, who she made the world’s luckiest man; her loving and devoted sister, Diana Dykstra and brother-in-law Doug Dykstra; her stepdaughter Jessie Birkhofer and husband Breton Birkhofer; her stepson Phillip Yarrow; a large and loving extended family too extensive to name; and her beloved Labradoodle Darby. Memorial services will be scheduled in Southport, NC and San Francisco at a later time.

Kit, you will never be forgotten and always be loved.

60 comments

  1. Russ,
    A beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. Many tears will be shed,mine included. Your bonds with Kit will never be broken. Drew

    1. You did Kit proud, Russ. The tribute was beautiful. We will miss Kit but know her spirit will be with us forever.

  2. The world lost a bright star last night. We are truly blessed to have known and loved Kit. She will be sorely missed.
    John and Linda Gilbert

    1. Such a beautiful tribute to a wonderful lady. Kit will dearly be missed. Healing prayers to you Russ and family.

  3. What a beautiful tribute. I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Kit well, but did work with Russ and it was very evident a big part of what made him special was Kit’s “Beacon of Light and Love”. I am so sorry for your loss.

  4. She was a bright light for sure and a beautiful woman. I only knew her for a short time but i enjoyed her presence. Heart felt sympathy goes out to Russ and family.

  5. Russ, We offer our deepest sympathies. The world is just a little dimmer today. Bob & Mary

  6. I typically eschew opportunities for public expression in digital format but feel compelled to offer the following from Wendy and me. This is indeed a beautiful tribute, grounded in deep love and affection, that captures a life lived with curiosity, commitment to excellence, devotion, and generosity. In 5 short years, we have covered an enormous amount of ground together, weaving a fabric of friendship, both intellectual and emotional. Our lives will forever be enriched.

    John and Wendy McIver

  7. Oh Russ, such lovely words for such a lovely woman who I deeply love. Tears are streaming down my face so it is difficult to type, to see. I loved Kit so much and was honored to be her friend. Honored to collaborate with her. She made me laugh. She made me smarter. She brought both insight and joy into every conversation we had. I am honored to have finally met you and see the deep connection you shared together. She adored you in every way. The world did lose a bright light, yet somehow I know she is still always going to be with us. My deepest sympathy.

  8. Russ, your love for Kit shows through your writing and this is a “just exactly perfect” tribute. I’m sending prayers of comfort and virtual hugs for you during this difficult time. My heart hurts. May her memory be a blessing. Margie

  9. Thank you for your this wonderful tribute. I remember thinking about attending grad school at GGU and it was in my mtg with her that I knew it was what I supposed to do. As a therapist now I am thankful for her push, guidance and support. May she rest now and the love everyone has for her keep her work and spirit going!

  10. Russ, what a touching tribute to a remarkable person. My best friend lost his wife to OC two years ago, after a six year battle. Your description of Kit reminds me so much of Maggie. Gracious, giving, loving, focused on others. Kit will be missed by so many. My deepest sympathies to you and the family.

  11. Touching tribute Russ. I’m glad I was able to share at least one evening with you and Kit over drinks and dinner, I only wish I could have known her better. We’re all thinking of you up here in the Pacific Northwest, hope to spend time with you someday soon. Be well, friend.

  12. Russ, Ida and I will miss Kit as she touched our lives as she obviously did with many others. We were blessed to have known her and to have been able to share a small part of her life. You gave a beautiful and loving tribute to her and the love shows through your words. Kit had an impact on many lives, something few of us have the opportunity to do. I know you are proud of her accomplishments. Her glow will live on.

    1. A beautiful tribute to aa amazing person. My heart goes out to you Russ and your entire family.

  13. What a fine tribute to such a wonderful person. Kit made a huge difference to so many personally and professionally. I have been so fortunate to have been a friend and colleague of hers. Kit’s marketing acumen was best in class. She could effectively and efficiently discover what mattered most , what was meaningful and what were opportunities for her clients. But what stood out most was her kind and generous nature. Her values of honesty, integrity and a giving spirit.

    Roberta and I are deeply saddened by Kit’s passing. We know how much Kit means to you. You two had a love affair going on when we first met some twenty years ago. It has been beautiful to behold.

  14. Russ, thank you for the beautiful words. Kit was in Kuala Lumpur when she was teaching for the Helsinki School of Economics Program. We rented an apartment for her at TTDI for the week and it remains as my home until today. We always remember her laughter and the students enjoyed her teaching tremendously. My deepest condolences to you and your family.

  15. I will miss my joyful and optimistic friend Kit. She was always fun to be with and her memory will always make me smile.

  16. Russ: I nver really met her, but your tribute is shouts how much she meant to you and everyone who knew her. Suzanne and I offer our deepest condolences to you and your family.

  17. My heart is saddened at the loss of a great woman who has left her own legacy. My condolences to Russ and family

    1. Kit was indeed a bright light and generous spirit. Thank you Russ, for sharing this beautiful tribute and for all the love and care you provided Kit. She was a wonderful colleague and friend and I will miss her dearly. Please let me know when the memorial is held in San Francisco. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  18. Russ, Joey and I are so deeply sorry for your loss. Kit was the most remarkable of jewels. She was always twinkly, full of heart, savvy, upbeat and enlightened. It was an honor to have worked with her, to have experienced her, to have her in our memory. Fly on, Kit, fly on…

  19. Russ, you have my deepest sympathy. I too interviewed Kit many times on KCBS…and Jeff Bell couldn’t have spoken truer words, she was just great every time. I’m so sorry for your loss…really, a loss for anyone who was lucky enough to share some time with Kit.

  20. Russ, our hearts are broken as well. From the moment we met her, we knew she was a special person full of life and charm. Our thoughts and love remain with you and the family always.

  21. Russ, Thank you for this heartfelt amazing tribute to my oldest and dearest friend Kit. She had an incredible life filled with love, fun and many accomplishments. No words can explain how much I will miss her, as well as will all the people she touched! Even though we rarely saw each other, she was my rock. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Dee and our little Darby too. Sue Bue

  22. What a wonderful tribute to a true luminary. She lit up every room she was in with her whit and infectious positive energy. IWF summer camp has truly lost one of its most energetic funmeisters! I share in your grief Russ. Thank you for a beautiful remembrance of Kitt.

  23. A beautiful tribute for a wonderful woman. We will miss Kit SO very much – she touched all our hearts and made us laugh. IWF and the world have lost an amazing sister.

  24. Russ, thank you for sharing this beautiful, loving tribute. It helps ease our broken hearts, and illuminates the brilliant light, loveliness and grace of our dear Kit. Our collective sorrow is enormous, and yet in no way can it match the depth of your sorrow at losing your dearest love of your life. My heart goes to you, to your and Kit’s family, and then on to the many constellations of those of us who Kit made feel like family, connected to her shining star. Few live a life as rich, passionate, purposeful and full of delight and pure fun, as did Kit. A life made more beautiful by the true love she found with you. She touched so deeply the many who cherish their memories with her. I am so grateful for her friendship. Her capacity for wide, deep and heartfelt friendships was boundless. I will forever miss her sparkle, her giggles. I’m thinking there is a radiant new star now in the heavens, twinkling away. Shine on Kit; sending love all the way up to the stars.
    Russ, sending love and deepest sympathy to you and family.
    Mary Huss

  25. Beautifully written. We are sending our love and condolences to you, Russ. I’m so glad we were able to meet Kit in San Francisco last year and experience her bright light. Her curious and loving spirit shines on.

  26. Such a terrible loss. This must have been very difficult to write. Hang in there Russ. Hopefully hugging Darby helps a litttle.

  27. Thanks for your beautiful tribute Russ. I appreciated working with Kit at GGU since she started the psych program. She was a wonderful light in this world. My deepest condolences to you and your family.

  28. Russ, a beautiful tribute to a beautiful person. We miss you and Darby. We will always miss Kit. Love, Bunny and Ted

  29. Knowing Kit was like watching a comet move across the sky. She was forever in motion and always left a shiny path behind her. I worked with her at GGU early in her career and she always brought in the sunshine with her. I am terribly saddened by this news as her life was cut short by a horrible illness. Godspeed to the great beyond Kit. You will be missed.

  30. A light is truly the best word for Kit, because she lit up the room. I treasured working with her and getting to know her and was honored when she included me in one of her books. I will miss her. My most sincere condolences to you Russ and her family.

  31. Saddened and struck as I opened the SF Chronicle today to learn of Kit’s passing and struggle. Russ, your elegant and loving obituary shines a beautiful light on our dear Kit and your loving relationship, which I know meant the world to her. She touched my life and so many others with humor, kindness, brilliance and deep friendship, which spanned decades since our work together at GGU. We were sister Virgos and the legend of the red cowgirl boots she gifted me will live on in eternity. She faced life and the challenges presented with an amazing can-do spirit— always shining a different lens on the layers that most people never saw or could touch. My deepest condolences to you and your family. A service in SF was noted in the paper sometime in the future. Please include me on your contact list. Stay safe and well. Much love, Thea Bellos

  32. I’m so very sorry for your loss, Russ! I was so saddened to hear the news today. I interviewed Kit several times for various personal finance articles I wrote. She was always one of the best sources to talk to – kind, smart, friendly, funny and upbeat. And she always took the time to email me after the articles published. I’ll treasure the knowledge she shared as well as the conversations we had. I’m sure you already know how special she was, but you might not have realized just how many lives she touched. I’m praying for you!

  33. Russ, Beautiful tribute to your beloved. I’m very sorry for your loss. I’m thinking of you and your family and all who knew Kit.

  34. Russ, this was such a beautiful tribute to Kit. Kit was an amazing woman and friend. Her spirit and kindness were a bright light in this world. She will be missed. Thinking of you, your family and Nurse Darby with heartfelt prayers. Kathy

  35. I am so grateful to have been touched by Kit. Her spirit precedes her and she will forever remain a bright light in my heart. Sending love to Russ and the entire family.

  36. It has taken me awhile to process this and feel ready to post something. Kit was a significant & impactful friend & mentor to me. I had the privilege of meeting and working with Kit her during the height of GenBuy doing PR for GGU (and by default, became her personal publicist). She entrusted me as a proxy spokesperson for her brilliant thoughts and we became close collaborators ramping up to her second book. I know she had hoped to be in SF all summer long in 2020, and I was holding on with all hope that she would make it here so we could see each other in person again with laughs and long lunches. I yearned for her old-soul energy. She was always rooting for me, a rare champion in life and work, sending thoughtful notes and packages when my kids were born, when my father died, when I was struggling with work or life. She was always there as a touchstone for me, even when our lives no longer intersected physically she was there like a rock — like the family you choose.

    I’m grateful I had the opportunity to tell her directly (via email) over the last few months what a tremendous impact she had on me and how I thought she embodied everything of How A Woman Should Be. I loved spreading her savvy knowledge, wisdom and light to the world in the time we worked together, and it remains a critical point of pride in the timeline of my life/career. She’s one of those forces that touches you and you’re never the same. I will carry a big piece of Kit with me always, we should all be so lucky to meet such smart, outrageously generous, off-the-charts empathetic and dynamic people in our lifetime and hold them close. My deepest condolences to Russ, Jessie, and all who hold Kit near and dear to their heart. Never stop sharing stories.

  37. Over the years I have known Kit, I don’t think I ever had a conversation with her that wasn’t 1) helpful or productive in some (often unexpected) way and 2) fun. She was a great colleague and collaborator, advisor and sounding board, but most of all a great friend. She will be so missed by so many. If there is a tribute of some sort in SF at a future date, I’d be honored to be included.

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