Spotlight Columns

Living her life in the light: A tribute to Kathy Carlisle

By From page B2 | December 19, 2012

A few weeks ago, I wrote about fate, joy and sadness as they relate to the arts.

“All mortal life is ‘fated’ to have a beginning and an end,” I wrote in Village Life on Nov. 28. “(But) between those fixed points in time are all the things that go into life: good and evil, happiness and sadness.”

Little did I realize how the local and regional arts community would experience all these — with extreme intensity — with the passing of artist, St. Francis High School arts teacher and my personal friend, Kathy Carlisle, on Dec. 8. She was 52.

Kathy died as she lived that day: as an artist in action.

She was a bright and creative individual. Kathy had the multiple gifts of talent, compassion and encouragement. Kathy encouraged many a student, parent, co-worker and friend to expand personal horizons and to soar.

When you were with Kathy you were the most important person in her world. And because you were precious in her eyes, she would explore all the possibilities open to you. She always made others happy. She was a joyful person.

“Say yes to CHOICES and THAT WHICH CANNOT BE SPOKEN WITH WORDS,” she said to her friends on Facebook.

Kathy chose to live her life in the light of goodness — and to shine that light on the darkness of the world. She grew up in Detroit during the 1960s, a time of social turmoil and unrest. As an artist, she wanted to use her artistic gifts to bring issues of justice to the forefront.

Every year since her arrival in 2008 at St. Francis, she taught a unit on the Shoah — the Holocaust. Students interviewed survivors of that horror, then created works that embodied the lives of those people in a contemporary way, speaking to today’s generations. The exhibits won many awards, including a scholarship for Kathy to study the Holocaust at the 2012 Memorial Library Summer Seminar on Holocaust Education.

“I can’t believe I was one of the 26 scholars picked for this award,” Kathy told me before traveling to New York City last summer. “I am so humbled by it all. And so excited. There is so much I am going to bring back for my students!”

Kathy’s dedication to providing the very best curriculum for her students meant that she often worked in her classroom for a few hours on weekends. She would take time to develop new teaching techniques for upcoming classes, including digital photography.

The light was perfect that Saturday afternoon on Dec. 8. The sky was a vibrant blue, the colors crisp. The angle of the light at 2 p.m. was ideal. Why not take some photos of the trains that rumble along the tracks across from her students’ campus? Seemed like a great opportunity.

Grabbing her camera, Kathy headed for the train tracks.

My wise, intelligent friend had one fatal flaw: She did not know that an oncoming train masks the sounds of a train coming the other way. You can’t hear it. You can’t feel it rumble the ground. Yet, it comes with deadly power.

Standing on the tracks opposite an oncoming train, Kathy started to take pictures. Getting the angle just right, cropping in the frame. Focusing.

And suddenly, without warning …

She was before that Perfect Light.

It was a senseless, accidental death — an evil death. If only she’d had a spotter. Yet, God chose to take her to Himself at the zenith of her lifetime.

Heaven’s gain is an overwhelming, and earthly loss to her family and to thousands of artists, students and countless friends. Kathy leaves behind her husband, Steve Jarvis, and three children: Will, Bianca, and Violet, who is a freshman at St. Francis.

I’ve read that we suffer such sadness because of the tremendous love we bear for those we lose.

The loss of Kathy Carlisle brought such grief and love to the forefront that the St. Francis campus did something remarkable: all semester finals were cancelled. The loss of such a dear friend and mentor was too much to bear. Instead, the St. Francis community gathered to celebrate Kathy’s life and to console one another.

Students created art works last week to celebrate Kathy’s gift of life  in her favorite colors, orange and pink. A tribute of beauty, like the woman who inspired it.

A scholarship fund has been established at St. Francis. The Kathy Carlisle Scholarship will be awarded annually to a current student at St. Francis High School who demonstrates a passion and commitment to the arts that were so much a part of Kathy’s life.

If there is anything Kathy taught me, it is that gratitude is a key to happiness. We worked on many an art show together. It was fun. She always made it a point to say “Thanks, Sue!” and to follow up with a personal note of appreciation.

As the arts community recovers from the shock of this loss, tributes of love and gratitude continue to pour forth. Grateful Troubadours from El Dorado Hills even decorated the famous EDH rocks in her honor.

“Make Every Day a Masterpiece,” the rock proclaimed. That is wisdom, from teenagers taught by a very wise woman.

Saint Francis of Assisi said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”

Somewhere in Heaven, there burns another bright light. Thank you, Kathy. Thanks for everything.

Send your event for consideration in Susan’s column to [email protected].

Susan Laird


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