There have been many moving tributes to Kate since her death and we are collating them her for the boys. Please leave your memories and tributes for Kate in the comments at the bottom of the page so they can discover them when they are older.
Remembering my darling wife Kate – Billy Boyle
Recorded and played on Kate’s funeral on the 9th January 2015
Seneca The Younger was an old Roman philosopher who wrote 124 letters to his friend Lucilius, to help him understand what it means to live. One letter has the line “As in a story so in life, not how long it is but how good it is, is what matters”
In words Isaac and Oscar can understand, Kate was someone was did good, who was good.
With Tony she founded AGI to make government work for some of the worlds poorest people – even today it is still an organisation whose values are defined by her character. At the end of November we went on a walk through the woods of Wimpole – I asked her what she was proud of. Characteristically, she said she was proud of the achievements of others, the impact the AGI team are having in the Ebola ravaged countries that she loved. In her last days there were many messages of love from the AGI team passing on quotes from others. Here are three:-
From the President of Liberia: “I really appreciate your support – we need far more AGI people. You stayed during our crisis and helped us overcome it”
From the head of Ebola response: “You hugely enhanced our work in stopping Ebola in Liberia”
“Without Kate, none of this would have happened”
Kate was at the centre of the spiral, but the arms of the spiral are cast half away across the globe and they still embrace and protect the lives of many families in Africa today.
Because Kate touched many lives, much has been written about her over the last few weeks, and while we are proud of her public achievements we mourn today for the private moments. Many have sat in the same room as her, but it is all of us here, who have walked through the years with her. Tomorrow is our 11th anniversary. I’ve been thinking about it constantly, where we met, what she wore, where we went, what we laughed at, trying to edge closer to her as we stood in the rain waiting for the bus – and while these memories bring pain there is great joy because I have spent everyday since living in the grace of her love. All of us here can right now bring to mind our Kate, the love she gave each of us, our own unique memories, stories never to be written down, but forever etched in our hearts, to be brought out frequently and placed alongside the best cutlery.
She was constantly bringing people together but was supremely skillful at carving out the wonderful warmth of her attention for every person there. The wildly ambitious, last minute dinner parties where confidences would be shared over densely packed lamb shanks. She was the doer – the one who planned the holidays and long walks, where she would peel you off from the rest of the group to find out your news. The boss-friend who cared about what you wanted to achieve in work, not what she could get out of you. She would find a Christmas present for her sister in June and hide it at the bottom of the wardrobe until December. A slapdash perfectionist who washed the dishes at full speed and slammed the door in her haste to get outside and make each of our worlds a better place, all the while still making sure to take the time to savour the wonder around her.
Last term the boys had writing homework where they had to ‘fill in the blanks’ – “I love_blank_because_ blank”. In Isaac’s small neat handwriting he wrote, “I love Mummy because she gives me hugs”. The job title “Mummy” and job description “hug giver” was the one that she cherished the most. An accolade missed out in the obituaries was “Mummy the master lego builder” and in 47 Ross Street, no one could transform Optimus Prime faster than her. She could do these things because she was there with them – she was there with them when when it mattered most – sitting beside the boys over the months and years – giving them a gift only she could give – the unconditional love of their mother. She will still be with them because of what she has already given them. She is there in the happiness that they have everyday. My friends, as the boys grow up, we need you to take out your treasured memories of her, to share with them, so they might know her better. From stories of naughtiness at Oxford to her inspirational work – tell them all. Tell them what what she was like when she wasn’t ill, and when she was, how she defied it.
When The Nuisance arrived, the battle and bravery metaphors of cancer annoyed Kate. She made the choice to show up for gruelling treatments but had no control over the outcome of the battle. Forces beyond your control can take away everything, except the last of human freedoms, your freedom to choose how you will respond. Kate was brave and remarkable because of two choices she made when confronted with fate. In the face of debilitating treatment, and even in her last days, it was others she thought of – How are the boys? are Mum and Dad ok? She was also able to find meaning in her own suffering through writing. She wrote a blog post about how we must be careful not to avert our eyes to the suffering of others. She did this while lying in a hospital bed, in pain, days before undergoing yet another operation. Kate freely admitted her own imperfection and she definitely wouldn’t want the halo burnished too brightly, but the fact is that she lived up to her own writing and a powerful part of her legacy is to challenge us – to exercise our muscle of compassion, to be more and do more – from changing the world to reading our children just one more bedtime story.
Her blog became a book and Late Fragments was published just this week. On Amazon it was categorised in the death and dying section. I tried to find a phone number to tell them that they had made a mistake; to tell them that this is a book about life and living. Her letters to us, to help us understand what it means to live. She is gone. But we can still find her on these pages – her humor, optimism, strength and joy for life. A gift to our boys so they can know her better when they are bigger, but also another way for us to carry her in our hearts until our own deaths.
The last words she ever wrote to me are on the inside cover of her book – “love is stronger than death” – it is difficult to feel that today, but as we know, our darling Kate was almost always right.
My Sister – Jo Gross
IN MEMORY OF KATE – Tony Blair
Kate Gross died early on Christmas Day, aged 36, leaving behind her husband Billy, her parents, her 5 year old twin boys, and a large number of grieving friends of which I was one. Her last two years were spent fighting a cancer that she knew would take her from everyone she loved and from everyone that loved her.
Praising the quality of her all-too-short life is easy. Making sense of the injustice of her death is harder. No-one conquers death. But you can achieve a certain triumph over it. This she did and how she did it is a lesson for those of us who knew her well and those of you who never knew her at all.
Kate first came into my life in Downing Street, when at the extraordinarily young age of 26 she became my principal civil servant adviser for Prime Minister’s questions. It was an important position. I remember meeting her, preparing for our first Question Time, thinking how young she was, wanting to put her at ease and saying how she needn’t worry about being nervous. She replied that on the contrary I needn’t worry. “I’ll do my job and provided that you do yours, we’ll do just fine” she said with supreme self-assurance. Later when I got to know her better, I asked whether she really felt so at ease. “Of course not” she scoffed, “but the last thing you needed was some petrified youngster exhibiting their signs of stress whilst you’re experiencing yours.”
That was very typical of Kate. She would not like to be thought of as superhuman or a saint. She had the same feelings, anxieties, and crises of confidence as the rest of us. But she had the self-awareness to recognise them; and the determination to overcome them.
She didn’t always know she was going to die young. But she lived as if she might. In other words, there was not much wastage in Kate’s life. When she left Downing Street, she came to work with me in setting up the Africa Governance Initiative, the Foundation which works with African Presidents and Prime Ministers to promote effective Government. This can involve everything from delivering better healthcare for children and pregnant women to reforming the business environment to attract investment. The Foundation is now in seven different countries and set to expand further. But when it began under her leadership, it was just a handful of people and a very limited budget. She built it, nurtured it, gave it its culture and allowed it to become the organisation of scale and impact that it is today.
Even when she became sick, she still took huge interest and pride in it, especially in these last months when the teams already working in the Ebola-stricken countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, refused to leave, and insisted on staying to help the Governments combat the disease.
It was on a trip back from the USA where she and I had been fund raising for the Foundation that she suddenly took ill. She had terrible stomach pains, made it to A and E and within hours was undergoing an emergency operation for colon cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to the liver. After another operation and the cancer had been removed, it seemed for a short time that she might survive. But it wasn’t to be. Last year it came back and from then on, she was sure to die soon.
Once she knew her fate, she made the briefest possible stop at the place of self-pity and decided to move into a different gear to a new and more creative destination. I had literally no idea that Kate was such a brilliant writer. She began to blog, about her impending death naturally, but the blogs turned into a set of beautiful insights about life. Then she conceived of writing the book that will be published shortly. It is called ‘Late Fragments’. It is a gem – a wonderful, uplifting reflection on how to die and how to live. It is sad because of the context in which it is written; but there is nothing tragic about its message which is a happy one, full of life’s possibilities not its limitations.
Along with all of this, she managed to achieve the deepest of love with her family. She knew the summer of 2014 spent in France was going to be her last. So she made it special and joyful.
So what is the lesson of such a life? It is the lesson that we know as a matter of theory, or when we’re in an exceptional moment of spiritual awakening. But it takes a real life as a real example to make us understand that the theory can be made practice; and that it is our choice as to whether it is so.
The lesson is that it is not the longevity of your life but the intensity of it which counts; that what you give lasts longer than what you take; and that if you contribute, even to the smallest degree to the betterment of humankind then you will not be a memory but a living and moving spirit that even after death can change the world around you. Such a spirit is Kate.
Keble College Oxford – Remembering Kate
It is always a shock to learn of the death of a former student. Tutors do not expect to outlive their former charges, and Kate Gross was so memorable that seeing her graduate fifteen and a half years ago is today as if we saw her yesterday, and another essay might be expected next week. We first learned of Kate’s illness in the summer of 2013 at a gathering with some members of that eminent English graduating class of 1999: there was quiet, very serious concern for her, and she was conspicuously absent. Kate Gross made a big impact in the world: she found the drive, the vision and the means to make a difference, from the Prime Minister’s Office to being CEO of the Africa Governance Initiative. Much has been said and more will be said of this in the weeks and months to come. Tony Blair paid her this compliment when he said that she fashioned ‘an organisation that took a new and innovative approach to development and today is making change happen in many different African countries.’ She was a phenomenon, and taken from the world far too soon.
Kate had that drive when she first arrived at Keble in Michaelmas 1996. She came from St. Laurence School, Bradford on Avon, where she was taught most effectively by Simon Mitchell, who had also read English at Keble, taking a first in 1982. We remember her cheerful, engaging, enthusiastic presence, brimming with ideas and always ready to put a question. She worked hard, and her best essays were, according to our late colleague Malcolm Parkes: ‘clear, full of penetrating insights, and well judged.’ You can read her passion and her sharp insights in her articles and blogs, and in her book just published, which is stirring awed admiration: Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life) (William Collins, 2015). She was bright and that sunny friendliness worked in classes to encourage others, perhaps more shy, to speak. She learned well how to parse an author, how to generate insight from analyzing textual detail carefully: that was her strength and it made her a professional. What a powerful writer she grew to be. The year group was and remains some eighteen years later particularly well integrated, and Kate’s role in that group was notable, as much as she was also a force in the College more generally. Sometimes the sheer presence of all her interests made it hard to deliver the best every time: we tutors feared the Keble Women’s Rugby Team for this reason. Yet she finished with a most creditable first, and that resounding success was surely the harbinger of all that was to come. Kate’s life was magnificent, no less so for the courage with which she faced her last two years. Her memory will be precious to all of us and all our sincerest considerations and prayers at this time are with her husband Billy, her twin sons and her parents.
Nigel Smith, Fellow and Tutor in English 1986-1999
Ralph Hanna, Fellow and Tutor in English 1997-2009