Ms. Kathryn ElizabethKirk
of Turney Missouri and Rose Hill Plantation
April 25, 1953 - February 25, 2011
I have a bit of sad news to share with all of you I'm afraid. Perhaps some of you remember Ms. Kathryn Kirk, the great, great granddaughter of Dr. John and Caroline Kirk, who built this house in 1858 and were the original owners of this plantation. Kathryn had been suffering a terminal illness since around Christmas of 2009. She called me with this sad news from the doctors one evening, but rather than focusing on the sadness of her situation, she decided to focus on making plans for what would be her last year and how she wanted her life to be remembered.
Some of you may remember that she made her final trip "home" to see us here at Rose Hill last July. We held another homecoming party for her, at which time she presented us with the Conner (Kirk) family portraits, the original dining room table and 2 chairs and a looking glass that had all been in this house over a century ago. As with each year's homecoming trips, we toured family cemeteries and churches and spent days just looking around at the town her great grandparents loved. Mostly we would sit here and rock on the front porch, under the canopy of Live Oaks, and really drink in the beautiful low country that had become her 2nd home and place of vacation. We enjoyed so many phone conversations about tours and how many times I had mentioned her name to tourists from all over the world. We were lucky, during that final trip home, that Kathryn wanted to secretly be part of one of these tours, so she could see for herself how much her family's history was truly enjoyed by others. I will never forget how she almost couldn't wait to be announced at the end of what was the most nervous tour I've ever given. A photographer took her photo that day for the paper, and it was the face of a very proud and most wonderful lady who saw her generosity turn into a museum, to be shared by many.
Kathryn passed away at home at her farm, peacefully, in the early morning hours on Saturday. Needless to say, the weekend has been a sad one for us. She was our very dear friend. I loved this lady. I will miss her and think of her for the rest of my life. She was, without question, the truest historic preservationist I've ever met. She really cared about this old house and the tremendous history that comes with it - a history that had been mostly forgotten for decades. She followed in her father's footsteps to become the family's "keeper" of the Kirk stories and heirloom treasures that she so generously shared with us over the years. I've learned more Rose Hill history from this fine lady than from any other person, period. She understood and felt sympathy for our struggles here in restoring this place, and spent hours with us touring cemeteries and helping us piece together the present and most accurate version of the Kirk family tree. The story of the Kirk family is so important you see, because it is the story of how this very town was founded.
Kathryn brought us together with other historic preservationists and even distant Kirk family connections. I cannot list all that Kathryn has added to our lives here. Our friendship with her has been the greatest treasure gained from owning this old house. It is the story of how the love of an old, ruin of a house brought a group of friends together from long distances. It is the story of how a group of people found their purpose and direction in life.
On Sunday afternoon during her visit we went over to the Church of the Cross and stood looking out over the May River. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon. This was Kathryn's favorite vista, next to the view from our own front porch of course. I sat on a bench with this fine lady, on her last day here and held her hand as she cried, knowing that it would be our last sunny day together at Kirk's Bluff. She talked about how she would like to be remembered and we made a few future plans that day.
Here was another Kirk family homecoming. Today however, her homecoming is in heaven, with her parents and older sister and even her favorite of all the Kirk legends - her great, great grandfather Dr. John. I imagine that he is so happy to finally meet this sweet lady, who cared enough to do so much toward helping keep his memory alive.
Rose Hill Plantation House
Please also see http://www.rosehillmansion.com/SpecialEvents.html for a tribute to Kathryn in photographs.