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Kathryn Helen Francis Charnes

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Kathryn Helen Francis Charnes Today, we celebrate the life of our beloved Mother, Grandmother, Great Grandmother and friend, Kathryn Helen Francis Charnes. She was known for her contagious laughter and her good will toward everyone. She was a generous friend and ally to anyone in need. And despite her slowly fading body and increasing pain, she loved making her doctors laugh. Kay passed away on February 6th 2014 at the age of 90 after a long, full, and surprisingly healthy life. Kay was born on June 6th 1923 in Philadelphia PA. She was the second of three children born to Mary Pennebacker and Charles Francis. She grew up in Flushing Meadows, New York, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She spent many childhood summers at her grandparents' Pennsylvania peach farm, riding stubborn ponies, climbing in the barns, and playing with her many cousins. After high school in the 1930's, she drove with her mother, a cousin, and an aunt, four women, by car from Ohio to Mexico City. The car even broke down for several days, but they never felt endangered. That trip was the beginning of her life-long love of Mexico and world travel. Her mother was a teacher, so becoming a teacher naturally appealed to her. She graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a degree in Home Economics, chosen because it didn't require mathematics. Then she completed a Master's degree and further graduate studies in Home Ec. at Purdue University. At 24, she moved to Carnegie Tech to chair the Department of Home Economics, where she met her future husband, Abraham Charnes. Ironically, she fell in love with an Assistant Professor of Mathematics. They married in 1950. In 1951, Kay & Abe had their first child, Deborah Francis Charnes. Their second, Daniel Hillary Francis Charnes was born in 1953. Next, the family moved to West Lafayette Indiana, where Abe was an Associate Professor of Mathematics at Purdue University. In 1957, the family moved to Evanston, Illinois, where he was appointed a Professor at Northwestern University. Their third child, William Francis Charnes, was born in 1958. In Evanston, Kay created a home where every kid in the neighborhood wanted to come and hang out. She loved children. She made sure the three of us had all kinds of pets: dogs, cats, birds, fish, turtles, and bunnies. Many survived. When a group of baby bunnies froze during a harsh winter storm, she gamely agreed to let us try to revive them by gently warming them in the oven. Then she comforted us when it didn't work. She always had plenty of art materials and projects we could work on, from ceramics, to copper enameling, to making plaster casts and plastic molds, to paints, clay, pastels, pencils, markers, and reams of tissue paper in every color for making collages. We could always bake cookies, cakes, and make messes in the kitchen. And we had all the books, visits to museums and county fairs, and trips to ski or to the beach or pools we could ever want. We also had dozens of board games and cards. She even taught us to play poker by beating us out of our allowances (she'd return what she won afterwards). And she loved us in the same deep way as we grew up, supporting our interests and helping us to build and enjoy life while welcoming the people we chose as our partners and friends. Kay and Abe's last home was in Austin, TX. In 1968 an old friend and former colleague at Carnegie Tech, George Kozmetsky, the Dean of the UT School of Business Administration, invited Abe to join the University of Texas faculty as the Jesse H. Jones Professor and as a University System Professor. Mom's lifelong friend, Ronya Kozmetsky, may well have played a key part in the move. Abe founded the Center for Cybernetic Studies at the University of Texas and was later named the John P. Harbin Professor in the College of Business Administration. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Economics and died on December 19th, 1993. They were a great team, famous for their love of travel, their hospitality, and their fondness for and dedication to helping their extended family: Abe's graduate students. Kay always included the students and their families in holiday celebrations and parties, ensuring those far from home wouldn't be alone. Every holiday was an excuse for filling the house with people and food. She also loved the community of friends she found at the UT Faculty Wives' Club, the faculty wives' bowling group, and DAR meetings. She held coffees/brunches every month for her circle, and every June she and Ronya celebrated their nearly identical birthdates together. Together Kay and Abe travelled the globe, visited most states in the US, and saw much of the world, including Mexico, Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, China, the Middle East, and South America. We've got their art and collectibles from the many places they loved to prove it. She gave her four grandchildren: Emma Charnes Peel, Kathryn Peel Gordon, Adam Abraham Charnes and Alexander Winston Charnes, the same huge dose of love and adventure that she gave us, her children. She really thrived on the love and affection they gave her. And finally she was enchanted with her first great-grandchild: Louisa Peel Gordon, born a few months before she died. We want to thank her terrific physicians, Ace Alsup (and his nurse Barbara), Lynn Knowles (and her nurse Gloria), Jaculeen Dano, David Morris, Peter Broberg, and Terry Kuhlmann for keeping her with us and helping her leave when she was ready. And we especially want to thank Josephina Avila, and her smart and loving daughters Jocelyn and Jaqueline for helping our mom live the last year of her life on her own terms, in the home she loved so much, until the very end. Thanks also to our dear and generous family and friends who help sustain us in so many ways through this time of grieving, and who share precious memories of Kay and Abe with us. The Charnes, Peel, and Gordon families. If you wish to make a donation in her honor, you can do so by contributing to the "Kathryn Charnes Memorial Fund", c/o the Austin Community Foundation, 4315 Guadalupe, Suite 300, Austin, TX 78751.
Published in Austin American-Statesman from June 8 to June 9, 2014
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