February 25, 1944 – April 5, 2021
Kathleen J. Mills, a sensitive, generous, vivacious spirit who brought light and joy to all she met, died peacefully in her husband’s arms on April 5, 2021 at Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, New Mexico, following complications from a stroke.
Music was her passion from an early age. Born in Iowa in 1944, Kathy was a life-long classical pianist, performer, teacher, and lover of adventure. She graduated from Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, earned degrees from Smith and Northwestern, and taught for many years at Washington College in Chestertown, MD, where she rose to tenured Music Department chair, teaching theory, music history, blues, jazz, reggae, and women composers. Her honors and performances as solo pianist, ensemble player, and choral director during that time are too numerous to list. She earned two sabbaticals and went to Europe. She and her husband traveled to London, Paris, Florence, Venice, Salzburg, Vienna, Munich, Berlin, and Leipzig. In Zwickau near the Czech border, she played Clara Schumann’s own piano. In Leipzig she visited Bach’s church and cried.
Kathy and John were married in January, 1981 by a justice of the peace in Chestertown, accompanied by all their friends. After a champagne party at their apartment, they drove the landlord’s wife home in a snowstorm and she improvised a wedding dinner. In the years that followed, she and John took frequent road trips to visit family in Iowa, Arizona, and Texas. One summer they stayed with his parents in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She bought a carved stone fish in Michoacán and treasured it for 40 years. Kathy loved to travel, exercise, read, garden, and practiced her piano almost every day. They shared an apartment in town, an old home on a beautiful waterfront farm, and eventually their own 2.57 acre rural paradise a mile from the Chesapeake Bay. In 1999, eager for change, she resigned her tenured position and moved to Taos, where everything was different.
In Taos, she performed solo and in ensembles (Taos Chamber Music Group, Soundscapes), accompanied singers, the Taos Community Chorus, directed choir at her church, and taught piano for two semesters at Adams State University in Alamosa, CO, driving 90 miles each way. She loved the open spaces, mountains, people, and wildlife of the West and never regretted moving. An avid walker, she and her husband often hiked the wilderness trails near Taos. She loved driving slowly along the Rio Grande from Pilar to spot migrating Canada geese, ducks, and eagles. They visited wildlife refuges when sandhill cranes were gathering. She gasped in wonder at elk, pronghorns, bighorn sheep, delighted in the grazing herds of goats along the acequias in Ranchos, and blessed the winter snows that reminded her of Iowa.
She is survived by her husband, sister, brother, nephews, nieces, and cousins, with a host of friends whose hearts are broken. Her laughter was like a bell. She loved her family fiercely. Everyone who shared her life remembers her with love.
STROKE! March 20, 2021
Strange New Freedom March 28, 2021
If You See Sweet Kathy April 10, 2021
Luck of the Gods (Part I) April 23, 2021
Luck of the Gods (Part II) April 23, 2021
Arroyo (Leave the Path) May 1, 2021
Soft Angel (Harder Ghost) May 5, 2021
Stupid Widower Tricks May 11, 2021
Gift of Life May 18, 2021
Almost June May 24, 2021
We Goddamn Did It May 29, 2021
Love and Monsters June 10, 2021
Story of the Stones June 27, 2021
Three Month Anniversary July 8, 2021
John! John! July 22, 2021
• There are more posts like the above. Please see the Top Posts category. Kathy is also featured prominently in many of the more than 900 blog posts here at JHFARR.COM. Just enter her name or keywords in any search field. You can also try a Tag Cloud search from the bottom of any page.
• For photos of the last eight years of our life together in New Mexico, see my SmugMug gallery.
• Washington College President Wayne B. Powell’s letter to WC alumni is especially gracious and provides an excellent account of her academic career.
• This NFT collection at OpenSea has wonderful shots of Kathy and how we lived.
• The obituary above, written by me, first appeared in the Chestertown Spy. You can leave a message there or comment here below.
The other day I received the following email from a stranger in Mount Vernon, Iowa, where Kathy got her first degree at Cornell College. I’ll conceal the sender’s personal information, but I think they’d be fine with my publishing the contents. I’m so grateful. – JHF
You don’t know me, but I read Kathy’s obituary in the Mount Vernon/Lisbon Sun…
I have never saved an obituary. Even someone I know. But I clipped hers out and stuck it on my vanity mirror. I did this because I want to be reminded every morning to live my life in such a way that someone would write an obituary about me like what you composed for her.
What an incredible person. What an incredible life. And you told us about it so beautifully. Thank you for this, and I can only wish you a measure of peace during this difficult time.”
Last night I received this message from two dear friends of Kathy’s whom I neglected to get in touch with. Let this be a lesson to you when a loved one dies. A beautiful email that moved me deeply. – JHF
[edited for privacy and clarity]
“D. and I were just searching for Kathy’s phone number having had a series of wonderful memories of her yesterday afternoon while listening to Chopin, Beethoven and Vivaldi…and pledged that we would call today. The numbers we had no longer worked so I started looking on the internet only to find that she is gone and that you have written the most beautiful obituaries and posted about her passing and the many changes in recent years. We are heartbroken.
D. says, ‘Kathy was a wonderful friend and we had met in graduate school and had such fun. Her music carried me through and I have always been sorry that we didn’t live next door. It is such a shock to know she is no longer here but I feel her spirit in the wind. Know that you are in my thoughts and that Kathy was so fortunate to have you by her side.’
I am so sorry for your terrible loss.
A. and D.”