A woman of letters

Kitty Cook-Powell had a way with words

Kitty Cook-Powell had a way with words

March 19, 2006|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Katryna "Kitty" Cook-Powell, who died March 8 at the age of 85. Her obituary ran in The Daily Mail and in The Morning Herald on March 9.

Deep holes were common in postwar Japan.

But then again, so were Australians, fried eggs and morning drives outside Tokyo, according to what Katryna "Kitty" Cook-Powell wrote in letters she sent home from Japan.

The setting was 1947 Japan, where Kitty was living and working as a U.S. government employee after World War II. She frequently wrote her family during her two-year stay abroad.

The letters - totaling at least 100 pages when they're all gathered together - are only a small chapter in the volumes of what her family members refer to as "Kitty's stories."


The woman just had a way of saying things, her relatives said. But finding those letters was like discovering a surprise ending to a story that family members thought ended March 8, the day Kitty, 85, of Hagerstown, died of heart complications at a Baltimore Hospital.

Family came to Hagerstown from places as far as California and North Carolina to attend Kitty's funeral.

Kitty was born in Hagerstown to Dr. Henry R. Kritzer and Katryna Schlosser Kritzer.

She was survived by her brother, Henry R. Kritzer, 75, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

She was preceded in death by her only child, Joyce Ann Barnett, and three husbands.

The family stayed to help clean out Kitty's Hagerstown home after she died. "Her house was always neat," said her granddaughter Terri Ebert, 43, of Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Until you opened up a cabinet or a closet," she said.

Kitty had so many things that even after the family set aside what was willed to family and friends, what was to be auctioned away and what was donated to charity, they still needed a construction-site-sized Dumpster.

But it was in the midst of that tedious sorting that they discovered Kitty's letters.

"Who wouldn't want to read a letter that begins 'Had my first date with an Australian?'" asked her nephew Thomas Kritzer, 52, of Cupertino, Calif.

Kitty's niece, Mary Alice Murphy, said she had always wanted Kitty to write down some of her stories.

"She wrote down a couple of them," said Mary Alice, 48, of Black Mountain, N.C.

These letters are a bonus.

In one letter, Kitty describes a scene: She had left a party with her new Australian friend and one of his companions. "However - and with three glasses of beer - I fell in a big hole," Kitty wrote.

The hole was so deep that it swallowed half her leg, Kitty wrote. She later explained that bombings during WWII had left holes like that all over Japan.

"But usually one looks where they are walking," she writes.

After reading that portion of the letter, Thomas said it was easy to picture Kitty over there. You could almost hear Kitty telling the story herself, he said.

The woman family members envisioned was a well-dressed "girlie girl" with painted nails, a wide-brimmed hat and stiletto heels.

Mary Alice remembered trying to keep up with Kitty on day-long shopping ventures.

"And she was the one in the pointy-toe heels," Mary Alice said. "It's only been in the last 10 years that I could keep up with her."

Kitty had the fashion sense of a "big-city girl," her granddaughter Terri said.

Before spending two years in Japan, Kitty lived and worked in Washington, D.C. She attended the University of Maryland but later graduated from the Washington School of Secretaries.

Attending college was rather unusual for a woman during those times. "They went to the altar and had babies," Thomas said.

But coming from a family of intellectuals, it only seemed natural for Kitty to pursue a college degree, her brother Henry said.

Kitty was born in an apartment downtown, on the square. Her father's doctor's office was in the same building, Henry said.

"We were always surrounded by doctors and the like," Henry said.

Her great-granddaughter said some of Kitty's love for learning rubbed off on her.

"Education was the thing she taught me," said Casey Hill, 21, of Garner, N.C. "She made me promise her I'd go back to school."

Casey said she has kept that promise. She has enrolled at Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina.

Kitty handed down many things after she died, some of those things were tangible - like the old letters she saved. But others were indescribable and nonphysical.

Those indescribable things, family members said, had a way of keeping them all connected.

"She really had a great sense of family and togetherness," said her brother Henry.

Unity, he said, was what Kitty had taught them all.

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