She was born Mary Katherine Cone on Christmas Eve, 1951. Her dad, Charles, was a machinist, and her mom, Lillian, was a homemaker. She had two brothers, Bill and John, and one sister, Barb, and loved being the baby of the family. She was funny and smart, rode horses and modeled after school for a local dress shop. Everyone called her Kathy.
We met on a blind date. She was 16, I was 17. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She had long, almost black hair with natural streaks of silver, big green eyes with long eyelashes, and one deep dimple in her left cheek when she smiled. When she slid into the back seat of my friend’s old Rambler that spring night in 1968, it was my teenage dream come true.
We became inseparable. I played in a band, and Kathy was my biggest fan. Just having her there at a gig gave me a feeling like no other. We liked the same things, and our families liked us. Everything with us felt right. We knew it, and they knew it. The part we didn’t know was how that would play out in the future.
After high school graduation, Kathy took a job with an insurance company, and I got a plane ticket to Arizona to study architecture at ASU. We figured that I’d fly home on semester breaks and holidays, that it wouldn’t be that bad. It wasn’t; it was worse. We were lonely and homesick for each other. It didn’t take long for us to realize the solution was really where we had been headed all along. Kathy wore her mom’s wedding dress when she became my bride in August of 1973. We packed up our brand new, cherry red VW bus and honeymooned cross-country, campground to campground. From that moment on, we never looked back.
Kathy’s insurance job got transferred to the company’s Phoenix branch. She worked full-time to support us and to pay for my education, something for which I will always be grateful. When she got home, maybe she’d make us dinner or maybe we’d just jump into the apartment’s pool or have an impromptu potluck with our new friends in the complex. It didn’t matter. She was always laughing and game for anything. We were living our dream, and it was the best.
Graduation from ASU, in retrospect, took us from the world of pretend-adults to the real thing. The country’s economy was in the toilet, jobs were scarce and required architectural internships, paid or unpaid, were even scarcer. I finally found a drafting job that paid minimum wage, and changes to our world started rolling in. We bought a home and added a second car. Kathy added one more change: her name.
Kathy no longer wanted to be called by her childhood nickname. She wanted to be known by its grown-up version -- Katherine. With her new name came an awakening of sorts. She took evening courses for better job opportunities. She became more interested in civic activities and got involved in political campaigns for people and causes that she respected. She helped our F.Q. Story neighborhood get listed on national and city historic registries, and helped organize the neighborhood’s first historic home tours and street fairs. She dogged local and state agencies and attended endless public meetings to ensure that an I-10 pedestrian skybridge would be constructed at the end of 11th Ave, the spot preferred by the neighborhood. She could be a very persistent Capricorn.
Katherine also had a tender, generous heart. She was an art teacher’s aide at a central city school for homeless families filling the lives of vulnerable children with color and fun, if only for a few hours. And then when a young family became our neighbors, Katherine fell in love with their 3-yr old little girl named Carol with whom she formed a special bond, that of a madrina. From homework and after school projects to being the holder of special secrets, Katherine helped guide Carol to become the compassionate, strong young woman she is today.
Meanwhile, our common love for clean, contemporary design and construction took us to our next step together: the creation of The Patry Building Company, LLC. We set up shop in our home’s spare room and once again we were off and running. As larger projects came our way, we moved the company into commercial space and added employees. Jason, Katherine’s nephew, came onboard sometime later.
Katherine was always a strong advocate for the arts and culture in Phoenix’s downtown. That dedication dovetailed her interest in the repurposing of older buildings in need of fresh, new possibilities. It was serendipity that brought the fire-ravaged First Baptist Church of Phoenix now known as The Monroe Street Abbey onto Katherine’s radar. In the early 1990’s, Terry, a former Phoenix mayor and neighbor, reached out to her with insurance questions about that historic church while he worked on a plan to rescue it from the wrecking ball. It didn’t matter that its walls were being shored up by steel beams and its interior was a blackened, roofless, crumbling mess. She saw its raw beauty and potential as a City amenity. Over the next three decades, Katherine tirelessly used all of her skills to help preserve and position The Abbey as a future gathering space for performances, for the community and for the arts, a cultural garden in a ruin. She became The Abbey’s guardian, its public face and its true heart; she gave it her all.
And now, my best friend, my wife, my beautiful Katherine is gone. Our dream here has ended, our marriage vows fulfilled. We were halves of each other; our love undeniable and unshakable. Despite the many years that rolled by after that first blind date, she always made everything seem so easy, even when it was bone-crushing hard. Her laugh, her smile, her devilish willingness to do just about anything made everything better. I loved her more than I could ever have imagined.
Our friends and families plan to celebrate Katherine this fall at The Abbey. If you’d like to join us, send an e-mail to Kath@patry.cc with your contact information and I’ll get back with details. Ultimately, The Abbey will go on to its destiny whatever it may be; however, one thing it will be always be: Katherine’s legacy. A garden in her honor will be installed in The Abbey to commemorate that legacy.
Katherine’s heart may have stopped beating on May 19, 2021, but her spirit lives on in those whose lives she touched and whose causes she championed. Think of her next time you’re walking along a beach in Southern California, or on any beach for that matter. Stop in at a bar around sunset and raise a glass to her. She’ll be peeking over her sunglasses, smiling.