Eulogies for Kit: A Life Well-Lived

Kit passed away on May 21, 2020 but because of the pandemic, we couldn’t hold a formal memorial until June 2021. On June 12, more than 100 people attended a service at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Southport, NC to celebrate Kit’s life. I wanted to share the four eulogies that were delivered in her honor and captured so much of this beautiful woman.

The love of my life

Russ Yarrow, Husband

Welcome, everybody and thank you for coming. It’s so good to see everyone! We’ve waited a long time for this and it’s great to see everything getting back to some semblance of normal.

I want to thank people who traveled such a long way to be here: From the West Coast, Jessie and Breton Birkhofer and our very good friends, Greg and Karen Berardi and Bob and Peggy Wynne, and from Seattle my sister Chris. From Florida, my cousin Jane, and from Washington, Dee and Doug Dykstra. I want to thank Father Eric for his special visit to Kit in her last couple of months, where he reminded her that she was going to a place where all the people that love her already are and will always be. And I want to thank all of our friends here who showed Kit so much love and tender mercy during her ordeal. You helped her, and me, immensely.

Now we come to recognize this special woman and collectively bless her as she continues her journey.

Kit was like a jewel. She had many facets. I just want to share some things about her you may or may not have known. Some of the many things that made her special.

When she was a baby, for instance, before she could even talk, she would stand up in her crib and babble for hours, foreshadowing her career as a public speaker.

When she was in Atlanta, Kit worked as promotions director for a local FM radio station. She once staged an event where she placed dancers on top of the aisles in a Kroger grocery store. At another promotional event in the atrium of the High Museum she lined the spiral staircase with go-go dancers. That woman knew how to throw a party!

She took a wine appreciation class at UC Berkeley and in a blind tasting picked the cheapest wine as her favorite and was always proud of that.

Kit learned how to swing a golf club from a pro at a driving range in Kuala Lumpur while she was on an extended teaching assignment there. The pro always made her drink a beer during the lesson, which I’m convinced helped create the smooth swing she had.

She had an actual Rorschach test in a locked black box that she refused to show me because it would be a breach of professional ethics. As a psychologist, she understood the deepest dynamics of interpersonal relationships, but she never took advantage of that knowledge or lorded it over people.

She had a PhD, but she was also a fan of astrology.

When she told me the story of her favorite ballet, Swan Lake, while we were in a nightclub in Paris, she cried. That was one of the million moments when I fell in love with her.

She was a huge fan of Colombo and Perry Mason; at one point there were more than 200 episodes of each on our DVR. And she watched them all.

When she wrote her two books, she became a binge smoker, but never thought about smoking before or since.

Kit was at heart an entrepreneur. She reinvented herself when she earned a PhD in psychology from the Wright Institute; when she founded the Psychology Department at Golden Gate University; when she wrote two groundbreaking books; and when she became a media juggernaut. In the last year of her life, she opened up a shop on Etsy called “Darby Loves Jewelry,” where she put her large collection of costume jewelry up for sale. She loved the experience and provided excellent customer service, naturally.

She loved rituals, everything from our weekly “Happy Hours” to a little game she played with Darby. She would fill empty cosmetic boxes with small treats and then toss them to Darby to open up whenever she got out of the shower.

The Girl Scouts of America awarded Kit their “Forever Green” award in 2012, but her proudest award was “Teacher of the Year” from Golden Gate University.

She had a deep connection with animals of all kinds and would secretly watch cute animal videos on YouTube.

She had a terrible sense of direction. She once bought a new BMW just because it had GPS built in it. But she could navigate her way around a shopping mall blindfolded.

She taught often at the Helsinki School of Economics in the late 90s and became a quasi-celebrity in Finland.

She talked to her beloved sister Dee Dee on the phone nearly every day.

She kept a birthday book listing the birth dates of dozens of friends and rarely let a birthday go unrecognized without at least a card or a rendition of “Happy Birthday” over the phone. Because she feared my January birthday would be under-recognized in the aftermath of Christmas and New Years, she vigorously celebrated my half-birthday in June.

Despite what we all know about her — her talents as a hostess, her conversational abilities, her public speaking and media appearances — she always insisted that she was an introvert. I never believed it.

She never sat still. She believed that a person had to be contributing somehow all the time.

When we met a long time ago, my heart had been broken and she patiently and gently put it back together. To describe what it felt like, let me quote the great American poet Ira Gershwin from his song, “A Foggy Day”:

“I was a stranger in the city

Out of town were the people I knew

I had a feeling of self pity

What to do, what to do, what to do?

The outlook was decidedly blue

But as I walked through the foggy streets alone

It turned out to be the luckiest day I’ve known

 

A foggy day in London Town

Had me low and had me down

I viewed the morning with alarm

The British Museum had lost its charm

How long, I wondered, could this thing last?

But the age of miracles hadn’t passed

For, suddenly, I saw you there

And through foggy London Town

The sun was shining everywhere”

Kit parted the clouds and brought light into my life.

In the painful, challenging journey that was the last 19 months of her life, Kit took care of everyone around her. She made sure people felt comfortable about what she was going through. She never stopped reaching out to people, and continued to party with the best of them. Most of all, she took care of me. When I look back at the journey we shared through her ordeal I realize that Kit was the caregiver, tending to my fears and soothing my soul. But that is what she did for the 22 years that we were together. She cared for me, loved me, challenged me, taught me. She made me a better man and a happier man. She was my light, my oxygen, the ground on which I stood. There was never anyone like her before, and there will never be anyone like her again.

Always loved, never forgotten.

Best sisters

Diana Dykstra, Sister

May my words bring comfort, joy, and peace.

My name is Diana Dykstra but most people call me Dee Dee.  I am Kit’s sister and her only sibling.   

One evening, when I was 13 years old — Kit would have been 11 years old — my sister and I got into a hissy fit over whose turn it was to change the channel on our black and white TV (yes, this was before we had a remote control or color TV).  Our mother got tired of listening to us bickering so she sternly instructed us to get up and go to our bedrooms.  Before we left, she told us that a sister was the best gift that she gave us and would ever give us, and that we were to think about this while we were in our bedrooms.  While this was the first time I would think of my sister as the best gift that my mom ever gave me, I knew from a very young age that I was blessed with the most exceptional and best sister.  Throughout our life together, I would know her love, loyalty, caring, thoughtfulness, generosity, sense of humor, beauty, sense of style, charisma, creativity, determination, intellectual curiousity and sheer brilliance and, on occasion, her temper — which our parents named “black thunder.” 

Growing up we always had the basics — food, shelter, clothing, and a good education. But really only the basics —or as our dad would say, we had what we needed. Up until Kit was 10 years old, my sister and I shared a bedroom and for several years we slept in the same bed. When Kit was 11, we moved from upstate New York to a suburb of Columbus, Ohio and got our own bedrooms. I think that the scarcity we felt growing up was one of the driving forces for Kit’s determination to work hard in order to live with both what she needed as well as what she wanted and may have been the mother of invention for Kit’s shopping prowess.

Let’s talk a moment about my sister’s shopping prowess both as an educator and consumer.  As an educator, she influenced thousands of lives, whether through the two books that she wrote (what a thrill it was to walk into Barnes and Noble and see her books on the shelf), her consulting work with top companies both in the United States and internationally, her charismatic and informative TV interviews, the magazine and newspaper articles she wrote or contributed to, and in a lot of ways what was most dear to her heart — the thousands of students she taught at Golden Gate and other universities in the United States and internationally. 

Now, let’s talk about Kit as a consumer. Have you ever been shopping with my sister?  She was a magnet for salesclerks and the best deals.  Here is what happened time and time again when I shopped with my amazing sister. We would walk into a store, say Bloomingdale’s, and within moments, the salesperson would descend upon my sister, they would begin chatting, and the next thing I knew, they would be offering my sister beverages.  After we found items that we wanted to purchase, which were most often on sale, Kit would ask about additional discounts, and yes, invariably she would work out a deal with the salesclerk.  She always found me the best items at the most amazing prices and through the shopping process brought out the best in the salesperson.

My sister cherished her friends and family or “fambly” as she said as a child.  That is fambly … f.a.m.b.l.y … fambly.  She thoroughly enjoyed showing her love, loyalty, caring and support in grand and small gestures.  Her ability to find the perfect way to show her caring and support, I believe, was one of her most special gifts or talents. I cannot think of a time when this has not been the case, no matter what my sister’s age. 

My sister believed in reincarnation and that she would be back on earth again in the form of a happily singing bluebird, lovely butterfly, adorable dog, or another of god’s more gracious and gentle creations.  So, the next time you notice that one of god’s creations is especially looking at you, it just might be Kit saying hello, I miss you and I love you.

My sister was indeed the best gift my mom ever gave me. I was very, very blessed to have Kit as my sister. Kit’s and my last words together were, “Best sister, I love you.”

Two blonde beauties

Jessie Birkhofer, Step-daughter

Hi everyone. I’m Jessie Birkhofer, Russ’s daughter and Kit’s step-daughter. I wanted to spend a few minutes celebrating Kit for the incredible woman that she was.

Reflecting on the past year, I’ve found it amazing how present someone can be in the absence of physical presence. Kit has shown up in so many ways, sometimes to make me smile, sometimes to give me strength, sometimes as a reminder to always do the right thing. 

My dad wears a wristband that says WWKD — What Would Kit Do — and I’ve found that generally to be a good life motto.

So as we remember her and celebrate her life today, I wanted to reflect on a few memories and qualities that made Kit so remarkable. 

Her generosity. Not only was she the best and most generous gift-giver, but she was generous with her time and attention. She was the BEST listener – never interrupting, absorbing every word, and waiting until you were finished to offer the most thoughtful observation or piece of advice. She had a way of challenging without patronizing, of disagreeing without offending, and of advising without preaching. I took every piece of advice she gave me to heart, except for her suggestion to take statistics in college, and she never steered me wrong. I will never live down not taking stats, by the way.

Her laugh. NOTHING was better than making Kit laugh — her authentic, unadulterated and heartfelt laugh. When I hear it in my head I can’t help but smile.

Her love of Dairy Queen. I have many memories of going to DQ with Kit, I think the very first time was when we went on a family trip to DC when I was about 12 and we visited Kit’s sister Dee Dee and husband Doug. As a fun and extravagant surprise, my dad and Kit got a limo to take us around the city for a couple hours one day to see the sights. One of our first stops was DQ, and I just remember thinking, “Now this is living!” Little did I realize at the time how deep her love for DQ ran, and I became obsessed with her obsession. I’ll never pass by one and not think of her.

Her curious mind. Kit was a researcher not just in her profession but her personal life too. She needed to truly understand things, and wouldn’t stop asking questions or researching until she was satisfied. A less obvious manifestation of this was her love of auctions. Kit was an avid auction goer, and I like to think about her researching the pieces she wanted to purchase and getting to know their backstory ahead of making a bid, ultimately acquiring a new collectible with meaning behind it.

Her drive and steadfastness. In her book, “Decoding the New Consumer Mind,” she coined the acronym IKWIWWIWI – I Know What I Want When I Want It. She was talking about consumer behaviors, but she also embodied this sentiment in her own, non-demanding way. She was simply a woman who knew what she wanted and she never shied away from it! Her confidence, poise, and strong will were some of her defining characteristics. 

Finally, her love for my dad and vice versa. They showed me what true love, partnership and devotion looks like, and I will forever cherish both the direct and indirect lessons they taught me as a couple, and which I hold as standards in my own marriage. I know Kit would be so proud of my dad this past year.

So here’s to Kit, may we all carry a piece of her with us, and be better because of it.

 

The McIvers and Yarrows on one of their summer sojourns

John McIver, Friend

Good Morning.

When Russ asked me to say a few words today and then gave me the line-up of speakers, I knew that following the heartfelt, beautifully expressed messages from husband, sister, and daughter would be challenging. But I was honored to have the opportunity to provide a lens of Kit that could hopefully complement the family messages that you heard this morning.

My relationship with Kit was fostered by my wife, Wendy, and my deepening personal relationship with Russ, culminating in an incredibly enriching friendship that was enabled by many, many diverse and fulfilling experiences — way too many to describe today and the venue might not be exactly right for a few. Our friendship was actually relatively short and a significant portion of our time together as couples was after Kit’s initial diagnosis. As such, Wendy and I had the pleasure of an intense four-year period getting to know Kit and gaining the full Kit experience. So many good times.

And the remarkable thing for me is that the very things that I admired about Kit the most were never diminished despite the gravity of her experience during treatment. In fact, if anything I think they were amplified, as if the window of her life, if possibly narrowing, fueled her resolve to be the best she could be. It was incredibly inspiring.

Kit was always among the best in showing a true interest in people. So many folks are inclined to keep conversations focused on themselves. But Kit was just the opposite, always listening with intent. I loved watching her asking question after question, always eliciting smiles and sincere appreciation. And remarkably, the depth and breadth of her engagement with folks only intensified as she opened up even more and committed more of her time to fostering and sustaining relationships. You get what you give and the now-famous Brookfield Macarena dance that went viral was testament to how much so many people cared, giving back to someone who was so genuine. It was a wonderful moment.

Kit also possessed an intoxicating zest for life or joie de vivre for you French-speaking folks. I can think of few people who can match her. And not surprising to me, she was determined to let it shine brightly despite the gravity of her diagnosis. How could you not be inspired? It was truly remarkable.

Wendy and I visited Kit and Russ for three successive years in the Bay Area during their annual summer retreat from the heat of North Carolina. I’ll never forget getting up one morning during our visit in the summer of 2019 at 7 a.m. (Kit’s rule – no one was allowed to get up before 7) and finding her already up drinking coffee with her iPad in front of her. Her first words were “Hey John, check this out,” whereupon The Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power” came through loud and clear on the iPad speakers, accompanied by a shimmy and a shake, a hearty laugh, and a slap of her knee which was a signature move Wendy loved. There are so many more moments like this and I’m confident each of you could add to the list.

Finally, Kit’s dedication and selfless support of those she held close became more and more evident as her battle continued. She was clearly capturing each moment with as much focus on others as she could muster. Birthdays were big deals for Kit. Never seen anything like it. She always wanted cakes (and presents) each year for both Wendy and me on our birthdays. Even in 2019 when she was coming out of a very lengthy period of chemo, having missed my birthday by a day or two, she was apoplectic and insisted that we had to have a party. And the coup de grace followed soon thereafter when she actually agreed to go to a Phish concert with Russ. In NYC no less. I about fell out of my chair. She was so firmly committed to their enduring relationship even as she was declining. It was such a powerful reminder of the power of love. So inspiring.

Whether it was deepening existing relationships or building new ones, embracing spiritual connections never before realized, continuing to live with an unparalleled zest for life, or never ever falling short in her love and support for family and close friends, Kit’s final days forever changed the lens through which I viewed her legacy. She was truly a gem to never be underestimated for her many admirable attributes, none more enduring than her love of life and those she held close.

In closing, as Wendy has reminded me on several occasions, Kit’s wish was that this day would be a celebration. In that vein, I’ll take the liberty of channeling Kit. “Celebrate Life and Love with smiles and laughter, and for today and always, cherish our memories together.”

I salute you Kit, and forever thank you for being my friend.

 

 

9 comments

  1. The tears in my eyes are not in sorrow Russ but for a beautiful soul you loved. What incredible tributes from you, fambly, and friends. God bless you my friend.

  2. What a wonderful and fitting tribute and remembrance Russ! Very uplifting. Love ya!

  3. Russ, it is a very fitting send-off for Kit! Shari and I wish we had been able to spend time with her through the years. However, in reading these tributes we “feel” that we know her quite well. “Remarkable” is the word that portrays Kit best and in all ways. Our hearts go out to you, Diana, Jessie, the McIver’s and others who had the fortune to spend time with Kit. We send our love, Bob & Shari Morris

  4. Kit was a good friend, and a memorable one. I cherish the times we spent together, at our dinners, on the golf course (a Kit maxim: women should only play 13 holes), sharing Darby, activities at the International Women’s Forum (I promoted her membership, which was almost rebuffed, and when she did join THEY LOVED HER). There were so many wonderful times with Kit and Russ. I miss her….
    Carol McLaughlin

  5. A remarkable woman who left us much too young. A woman whose accomplishments were not touted by herself but from the many whose lives she touched. Our Kit. Brilliant, beautiful, modest and discerning when needed. That’s Kit. A shopper extraordinaire making an impact on consumers and her students. We were so fortunate to have had her in our lives. We will miss you. Physically gone and never to be forgotten. XOXX, Marcia & Richard

  6. I met Kit through IWF and it was my good fortune to experience her generosity and friendship. What a woman! Russ, thanks for the blog and sharing these tributes.

  7. Thank you so much for making this available to all of us who knew and loved Kit. She was an amazing and wonderful woman and your words reinforce my memories of her. Rebecca B – one of her IWF Northern California sisters.

  8. Dear Russ, I regret not knowing Kit well but what I did know about her matched the tributes from you and the others to her grace and sense of self. Having read your tributes, I’ll not pass a friendly puppy on the sidewalk or a butterfly fluttering in my path without being reminded of the possibilities of reincarnation and of Kit Yarrow’s presence beyond the physical.

    We knew one another as members of IWF.

    Godspeed to you, your daughter and all of Kit’s very close friends.

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