Members of the Sag Harbor community and beyond gathered Thursday morning at Saint Andrew’s Church in the heart of the village to celebrate the life of 12-year-old Kathryn Collins Stewart who lost her battle to a rare form of liver cancer last week, but not before she captured the hearts of so many.
Kathryn, who was known as “Katy” to family and friends, succumbed to hepatoblastoma in the early morning hours of December 30 at home with her family by her side.
The lifelong Sag Harbor resident had been battling the disease since 2009.
“Early this morning as the sun was rising in pink hue over the harbor, our beautiful and beloved daughter and Robert’s sister, Katy, became an angel in heaven,” Katy’s parents, Jim Stewart and Brigid Collins, wrote Thursday morning on CaringBridge.org, a web journal kept by Katy during her treatment. “She was a special gift to the lives of those who knew her, a kind and thoughtful child who was a giving and generous soul. She was a magnificent blessing to our lives and words can’t really express just how much we loved her so. We extend our deepest gratitude to this community, and our friends and family beyond. You made our journey lighter, and touched Katy’s heart in so many ways.”
Katy was born at Southampton Hospital on September 1, 1998, and was a life-long part of the Sag Harbor community, residing with her parents and younger brother in North Haven. Katy’s mother is an assistant principal at The Montauk School and her father a long time faculty member and coach at East Hampton High School.
Katy attended Sag Harbor Elementary School and Pierson Middle School, where the little girl who loved animals and the color pink found herself surrounded by teachers and friends who loved her dearly.
“She felt so warmed and comforted by all the love they gave her,” Brigid and Jim wrote. “Katy’s friends were very important to her and she loved spending time with them. She missed going to school during her illness, but was always most happy when her friends and family were close by.”
Carla O’Donoghue and her husband Tom bonded with the Stewart family after their daughters became close friends at the tender age of two.
“They have been best friends ever since and in every class together,” said Carla of her daughter Rose’s relationship with Katy. “They were inseparable.”
They were a part of The Irish Clovers, a club of four formed around friendship and the girls’ mutual Irish heritage. Even in the last years of Katy’s life, she and Rose enjoyed vacations together to Turks and Caicos, Colorado and Wyoming.
“Those are special times Rose will hold onto for her entire life,” said O’Donoghue.
“She was the most considerate, kind child you would ever meet and that is a testament to Brigid and Jim,” said O’Donoghue of Katy.
Katy also shared her life with two dogs, Emerson and Maisie, a cat named Crooksie and a pony, Footlose, who she rode at Little Ripple Farm, one of her favorite places.
An athlete, she loved swimming in the ocean, biking, gymnastics and was learning to play tennis. A was a life-long member of the Swordfish Club of Westhampton Beach, Katy spent many days at the club swimming, kite flying, building sand castles, doing cartwheels and barbequing with family and friends.
Katy was diagnosed with cancer in April of 2009 and began treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
During the course of her treatment, the East End community rallied around Katy. The Katy’s Courage Fund was established and was supported by a number of local charity events, including lemonade stands set up by her classmates.
“Every evening, someone dropped off dinner, others sent beautiful gifts, or expressed their love and support through thoughtful notes and gestures,” wrote Brigid and Jim. “The boys in Katy’s class shaved their heads when Katy lost her hair due to her chemo treatments.”
East Hampton High School students also honored Katy, with the East Hampton Coaches Association organizing a day where each and every student wore yellow “Katy’s Courage” t-shirts to school. Those shirts would continue to be worn by Jim’s varsity soccer team during warm-ups at games, which culminated in a championship season.
Even this week, the East Hampton Varsity girls basketball team donned Katy’s Courage t-shirts during their Tuesday night game, with both the girls’ and boys’ teams offering a moment of silence in reverence to Katy.
“This wonderful community was overwhelmingly supportive and words cannot express the gratitude felt by Katy and her family,” wrote Brigid and Jim.
David Plotkin and his family offered their support through their organization, the Max Cure Foundation “Roar for a Cure,” which benefits pediatric cancer causes and held two successful benefit carnivals that in part aided Katy’s Courage Fund.
“I have never met anyone in my entire life that had a smile like Katy did,” said Plotkin, who founded the organization after his young son Max was diagnosed and survived lymphoma. “She always made everyone around her feel comfortable, and was incredibly brave and courageous. Katy never let the cancer define who she is.”
“Roar for a Cure 3 will take on a whole new meaning this year on August 20,” added Plotkin. “This roar is for Katy.”
Another benefit beloved by the Stewart family was “Katypalooza,” benefit concerts organized by Sag Harbor teachers, led by Nina Landi, a former student of Jim’s who developed a special bond with Katy.
“We are really more like a family here at the school,” said Landi on Wednesday. “But with Katy, you just couldn’t help but zero in on her. She was like a magnet.”
Landi recalled the scrapbook project students and teachers began for Katy while she was in treatment, which has resulted in four-to-five complete scrapbooks for Katy, brimming with hundreds of entries from friends and classmates.
Katy’s strength something Landi said she will carry with her always.
“At the worst of times she was always concerned about others,” she said. “She really was an angel walking on the earth. The lessons she taught this community will live on forever. Faced with an insurmountable obstacle, she never gave up, she never lost faith.”
Landi said she intends to devote much of her time continuing fundraising for the Katy’s Courage Fund and pediatric cancer research in Katy’s memory.
“But I would also love to get the most beautiful, pink tree as possible planted at the school, maybe in the Eco-Walk, with a plaque so Katy’s story is never forgotten,” said Landi.
“We will remember Katy as a bright, hard working student with many gifts and talents,” said Sag Harbor School District Superintendent Dr. John Gratto. “All who knew Katy appreciated her radiant smile and kind, generous spirit. Her life brought great joy to all who knew her.”
In addition to her parents and brother, Katy is survived by her grandparents, Nana Mary Collins of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, and Grandma Elizabeth and Grandpa Walter Stewart of Aquebogue, as well as her aunts, uncles and cousins: the Bagshaw, Thomas, Chizever, O’Flaherty, O’Sullivan, and Collins families.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Max Cure Foundation, Inc. (MaxCure.org) for either a scholarship in Katy’s memory for a Pierson High School graduate or for pediatric cancer research in memory of Katy
at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Checks should be mailed to the Foundation at 21 Settler’s Lane, Westfield, New Jersey 07090.
Katy’s parents said the scholarship will be awarded to “students who exemplify remarkable courage, kindness and empathy, as did Katy during her all too brief, but exceptional lifetime.”