KATHRYN G. WAMBACH
Kathryn G. Wambach, born June
19, 1951, to Bettye and Gus Wambach of Evansville, Indiana, left
this world November 21, 2001, but remains with us through the
many people whose lives she enriched.
Among those touched were the students, staff, and faculty of
the School of Social Work, where she dedicated her service as
and director of the undergraduate program. Kate began her academic career
when she received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Purdue University,
attending on both scholastic and athletic scholarships. Later she earned
her master's and doctoral degrees in social work from Florida State University,
where she also began her formal teaching and research career. After joining
the UT Austin faculty in 1992, Kate received many accolades for her dedication
in preparing students as social work professionals, and she was regarded
by her peers as "a teacher extraordinaire." Among the many awards
she received, Kate was honored with the William David Blunk Memorial Professorship
for 2001-2002, a University-wide award for teaching excellence.
Kate will be remembered for her influential roles in leadership, advocacy,
and empirical research, and as a catalyst in the area of mental health
services. Among her many legacies, she served on the board of AIDS Services
of Austin and championed women's rights. She is survived by her life partner
and soul mate, Janet Boes; her brother Kris and wife Valerie of Destin,
Florida; brothers Kurt and Jon, and mother Bettye of Evansville, Indiana;
and beloved dog Jasper and Siamese cats Jordan and Eli Boesbach. In her
final hours, her Tallahassee family and friends held her close both in
their arms and in their hearts. Through all her ventures, Kate touched
lives in many ways. She taught us life lessons to make the world a better
place if we can learn to utilize them.
Among Dr. Wambach’s greatest teachings were the lessons she taught
us in her last few months of life. She was diagnosed with brain cancer
in August of 2001. As she herself said, "tell it like it is." Even
at that time Kate was pragmatic, direct, and candid. She was concrete in
her thinking and took things in great stride. Janet Boes was wonderful
watching after Kate's every need. Kate wanted to be the one to put the
word out to faculty and staff and above all her beloved social work students.
She forwarded her letter for distribution at the School of Social Work
late on the evening of September 10, 2001. Due to the September 11, 2001,
terrorist attack on the United States, distribution of the letter was delayed
until September 12, 2001. Even in the midst of horrendous national loss,
Kate’s message was striking for the subsequent outpouring of community
support it invoked. What greater tribute could be given than in words excerpted
from Dr. Wambach herself:
Imagine my surprise! In the
past two to three weeks, I have found that I have terminal
cancer. Who would have guessed? Quite seriously, I had no warning.
I didn't see it coming. I only learned today that the kind
of medical screening that could have identified this process
doesn't exist yet.
Somewhere in the last ten years, I "began" lung cancer… I
have smoked cigarettes most of my life. Certainly nothing that I am proud
of, nor resent. I want to say clearly to everyone who reads this to quit
smoking now. Just do it… You can quit smoking. I quit smoking four
years ago (clearly too late for me). Smoking cigarettes is self-destructive
and as a society we just need to let it go. We need to face the scientific
COSTS associated with pretending a legal substance isn't "really" harmful.
I clearly realize just how shocking this information is. I know it has
totally changed my life in less than a month. It has totally changed
Janet's life in less than a month (for those of you who know also my
partner, Janet Boes). You are on a path to become social workers. One
of the most important things you will learn on this path is how to take
care of yourselves. Here is a list of resources available to you at no
cost because you are students at The University of Texas at Austin. Use
them if you need to!
Dr. Wambach sent a second letter,
a “status report” on September 27, 2001. After a
detailed description of her medical condition, she concluded:
NOW TO THE REAL ME... This business
is clearly a lot harder on everyone else than me... honestly.
Now don't think I'm not pissed off; I certainly did NOT expect
to "DIE YOUNG." But let's go from there. I established
a firm moral/intellectual/philosophical code early in my life
and have lived by it. I am proud of who I am, what I have done.
I honestly believe (however arrogant this may sound) that I
am leaving the world a better place because I existed in it.
SIMPLY, I HAVE DONE WHAT I BELIEVED IN, AM LEAVING A LEGACY
ASSOCIATED WITH THAT, AND AM FLAT-OUT PROUD OF MY LIFE. (what
a gift, huh?)
NEXT: I am in no way, shape or form AFRAID of dying. I would
describe my feeling as mildly curious. I've never put energy
out" things that you obviously can't and I have no intention to
start now. I simply have a little bit better gauge on WHEN I get to find
out than most of you (although we all know how much we kid ourselves
here which brings me to the next point).
I'm starting to view having a defined period (I'm calling
it my NEW PHASE OF EXISTENCE) when you know the step across
the line is happening is
a marvelous gift in and of itself… The thing that UPSETS me about
my own death is the people who will miss me. I have some undefined period
of time to help them. Already for many, just hearing what I've told you
seems to let them feel very differently... this is supposed to be so
horrible and so far, honestly, to me, other than how it has impacted
the love of my life, this has been perhaps the most profound experience
in my life. WHAT A DEAL!
One of Kate’s social work
faculty colleagues, Dr. King Davis, elegantly summarized the
impact of her letters on each of us:
Kate's intimate messages come
at a time when each of us remains a bit numbed from the events
that have befallen us nationally, locally, and personally.
A numbness fueled in part because we continue to hear and feel
on a daily basis the numerous risks that life involves. The
price of life is ultimately death but not a priori from war
or transgressions old and new. In her own eloquent way Kate
helps to put so many of life's issues, items, and assumed priorities
into a stark, near Zen, perspective. She raises the questions
of all questions put forth by philosophers: What is life? What
is it for? How should it end? Or does it? Unlike most who know
not the exact chronology of their fate, the persons on board
the airliners did. One cannot discount what inner strength
it takes to be able to think of others as these folks and Kate
does at a time that death is at hand. Imminent. Waiting. Kate
moves me to tears when at such a time she chronicles and encourages
us to find real balance in life: take time to reach out to
friends, family, and loved ones. Go home when it counts. Treat
your body like a temple. Honor those non-material things that
you believe in during your life. Leave a legacy that makes
you proud. Be not bitter about what hand life deals you. And
be yourself above all else.
Among Dr. Wambach’s greatest
legacy of professional life was her gift of teaching. Dr. Wambach
had high, but fair, expectations of her students. Students knew
just what to expect in her class. She was concrete in her explanations.
She related her teaching of theoretical concepts to the real
world of practice. Dr. Wambach incorporated her many years of
professional mental health practice experiences into her teaching.
Dr. Wambach was not a “student-pleaser.” She was
able to hold students to a higher standard and still be held
herself in high regard by her students. Students took her courses
not for an easy grade, but to learn and to better prepare themselves
to be social work professionals.
Dr. Wambach, even prior to her 1999 appointment as undergraduate
program director for the School of Social Work, had a special
interest and commitment
to undergraduate students. She served on the Undergraduate Curriculum Committee
in the School of Social Work after coming to The University of Texas in
1992, and, in addition, assumed chair responsibilities in undergraduate
curriculum development. Dr. Wambach also served as a School of Social Work
representative to the Student Deans of The University of Texas at Austin
and was on the Provost’s Task Force on Academic Advising. Dr. Wambach
was a fierce advocate for equitable resource distribution for undergraduate
students within a school that has a strong focus on graduate education.
Students described Dr. Wambach as an excellent instructor who
taught them to look at ideas with a new approach. The experiences
and examples shared
during class lectures gave a clear picture about the subject she was teaching.
The students appreciated her humor, flexibility, and dedication. Many students
commented on her caring for her students. When describing Dr. Wambach,
the terms “excellent, awesome, best professor, great lectures, stimulating
class, knowledgeable, and approachable” were repeated over and over.
Her interesting and thought provoking classes made students think for themselves
on a level they never had before. Her strength and strong presence held
students’ attention and stimulated thoughts. She made students think
about their attitudes and actions and how they affected others. "Dr.
Wambach always asked the right questions to make us go further," one
student commented. Other student comments on course instructor surveys
- Hands down, Dr. Wambach is
one of the best professors I've ever had in eight years of
- Strengths: extremely interesting,
made me want to learn more on my own.
- Extremely knowledgeable: what
I expected from graduate level coursework. Dr. Wambach is incredibly
intelligent, but also down to earth and able to provide information
in an exciting manner.
- Wonderful! I loved this class!
Very stimulating and fun. I actually wanted to read and learn.
- Strengths: relates well to
students; wonderful way of breaking down the material into
a simple, understandable format.
- Dr. Wambach is one of the best
(if not the best) professor I have ever taken a class from,
here or at other universities. She presents material in a clear
and orderly fashion that is filled with helpful and informative
ways to diagnose and differentiate various mental disorders.
She presents all data with interesting stories that aid in
understanding the material. Even with sensitive topics (sexual
disorders) she approaches the topic in a clear and nonsensical
way allowing us to learn and question information without personal
emotional baggage getting in the way.
Dr. Wambach’s influence
on students extended beyond the classroom and over the years.
At Kate’s passing, the School of Social Work provided an
opportunity to pay “Tribute to Dr. Wambach” on its
Web site. Among tributes paid by students of her lasting influence
are the following acknowledgements.
Kate has been and will continue
to be a pivotal person in my life. I first met her in 1996
when she taught me that no matter how open minded I think I
am, I still have prejudices that I need to be constantly aware
of. That was my very first class as an undergraduate student
and I continued to seek out Kate about social work issues from
then on. I feel extremely grateful that I was fortunate enough
to have her as a professor in both the undergraduate and graduate
programs. She is a very special person and I will continue
to carry her words of wisdom and lessons of life with me throughout
the rest of my life. Kate, I will greatly miss your incredible
smile and your wonderful jokes.
To the woman who introduced
me to Rita Mae Brown
and made Stone Butch Blues real,
who forged her way, alone, along paths few of my generation
will ever fully comprehend
To the woman who believed in and stood up for me
when others could or would not
and had the courage to tell me about it
I honor you.
Your very breath gave testament that human evil
ultimately will not prevail.
Your integrity was the greatest honor you could have given
those they denied you the chance to know.
They know, Kate. They understand. They are proud.
To the woman who loved the orcas
who was patient and faithful to the Lady Longhorns,
loyal and loving to her partner,
and enduring as a friend -
I wish you peace.
Dr. Wambach—wow, what
a person. When I think back on my five years at the School
of Social Work, her face immediately comes to mind. I had her
in undergraduate and in graduate school. What drew me to seek
out and take whatever she was teaching was her perspective
and knowledge, but most of all her ENERGY! She made social
work "real" for me; she brought it to life! I will
miss seeing her bright shiny face and hearing her voice in
the halls when I go back to visit the school, but she has left
a permanent mark on the school that I will never forget.
Though losing someone of great
importance brings great sadness, I believe that comfort comes
from the remembrance of the great things that person did while
a part of our lives. Kate was a very special person, and though
she was taken at such an early time, she did make quite a difference
in the time she was here. She was always there to help others,
and I believe that her legacy will continue in the lives of
all she touched.
Faculty colleagues also held Kate
in high esteem. Several members of the faculty who were among
Kate’s “fans” (Dr. Elizabeth Pomeroy, Dr. Lori
Holleran, Dr. Miguel Ferguson, and Dr. David Springer) wrote
and performed a song in her honor, to the tune of Tom Petty’s “Free
Falling.” Kate’s partner, Janet, noted that she couldn’t
stop singing the phrase written for Kate, “Free spirit,
I’m a free spirit.” Dr. Elizabeth Pomeroy, faculty
colleague and co-author of The Clinical Assessment Workbook:
Balancing Strengths and Differential Diagnosis, states in her
dedication of their book:
The spirit of this book celebrates
the life and scholarship of my co-author, Kate Wambach (1951-2001).
Kate’s unique character, bold irreverence and ability
to think clearly and critically shaped the framework of this
text. Her excitement and enthusiasm about the subject matter
was exemplified by her active contributions in the field of
mental health and teaching. This book is a testament to her
continuous, profound impact on all whose lives she touched.
A “Celebration of Life” event
was held following Kate’s passing, on December 7, 2001,
to pay tribute to Dr. Wambach. One of those to speak was a faculty
colleague, Dr. Diana DiNitto. Her words also pay tribute to the
teacher, but point more to the person of Kate. Among Dr. DiNitto’s
expressions of tribute are the following words:
I am very glad that so many
of you could join us for this celebration of the life of Dr.
Kathryn Wambach. We have called this occasion a celebration,
for indeed there is so much to celebrate about Kate’s
life. But in my heart I am mourning the loss of a valued colleague
and friend—one whom we will no longer see in the halls,
in the classroom, and in committee meetings, but one whom we
will remember for her intellect, her decisiveness, her sharp
wit, and her wicked sarcasms… I remember when I learned
of Kate’s illness, and I rued the fact that such a vibrant
person could suddenly be so ill. But Kate did not recoil at
the thought of her illness. She looked it square in the face.
She handled it with her own style. She spoke candidly about
her situation in a letter to us and at the event we had to
honor her just before she and Janet left to return to Tallahassee.
She left each of us with a message about all we had to accomplish
here at the School of Social Work.
When I think of Kate, I think of a woman who made no pretenses.
Kate was first and foremost a straightforward and forthright
was outspoken. She let you know who she was. There can be no doubt that
all of us in the School of Social Work knew who Kate Wambach was. Kate
was a champion of fairness and of ethical conduct. Kate had a keen mind
to complement her sharp wit. She was an experienced clinician, teacher,
and researcher. The Excellence Fund established here at the School of
Social Work in Kate’s name is a fitting tribute to the person Kate
was… I know that there are not supposed to be any injustices in
the great beyond, but if there are any, I am sure that Kate is raising
hell about them in heaven.
Yes, what a person was Kate Wambach.
She touched our lives in a profound way. Toni Johnson, doctoral
student, said that thoughts of Kate brought to mind Maya Angelou's
poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” She shared the last paragraph
Now you understand
Just why my head's not bowed.
I don't shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
It's in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair
The palm of my hand
The need for my care.
'Cause I'm a woman
We conclude with the words of Dr. King Davis and Dean Barbara White. Dr.
Davis wrote: “Alas, Kate wins. She does it her way. With such strength.
Grace. Determination. Caring. We've all lost a guiding spirit.” Dean
White, in a Daily Texan news article (December 6, 2001) honoring
Dr. Wambach correctly predicted the future when she said, “You don’t
replace Kate. She was a unique individual, and we’ll probably be
telling stories about her for a long time.”
Larry R. Faulkner,
The University of Texas at Austin
John R. Durbin, Secretary
The General Faculty
This memorial resolution was prepared by a special
committee consisting of Associate Professor Dennis Haynes (chair),
Professor Diana DiNitto, and Assistant Professor Lori Holleran.