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 two strokes three weeks apart.
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.
Letters to Editor
John Hamilton Farr says
Dear Friends: a few links…
For photos of the last eight years of our life in New Mexico (posted chronologically, newest at the top), see https://jhfarr.smugmug.com/MostlyNewMexico/.
Find blog posts about Kathy and much more by searching at https://www.jhfarr.com. (There’s an email link for me on the “About” page.) You can also visit https://jhfarr.substack.com.
Washington College President Powell’s letter to WC alumni is available at https://mailchi.mp/washcoll.edu/sad-news-from-the-alumni-office.
Many thanks to Dave Wheelan and the Spy. I’m very grateful. – JHF
George Spilich says
Kathy was an example of all that a WC professor could be: professional, cultured, thoughtful and above all, gracious. She led by example and her guidance in academic matters was always spot on. Just a classy person all the way around.
John Hamilton Farr says
Hi, George. I remember you well and wanted to thank you for this. It’s absolutely true, I know, but someone other than me needed to put it out there and you have.. Her family and friends have all read this, and it means a great deal.