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.