Womanís Spirit Leaves World a Better Place
By Jim Gillis, writer for the Newport Daily News

Weíre a week into a new year and already worse off than we were in 1999.

Kathy OíBrien Franks died Monday from cancer, which she battled much of the past decade. And while the news is not necessarily surprising, it remains, for those who knew her, unimaginable.

She was 41 and leaves a husband, two sons, brothers and sisters, parents and an army of friends who will miss her exuberance. Itís always brutal when someone dies well ahead of their time and itís even more heartbreaking when that person celebrated each sunrise as Kathy did.

A glance at her obituary shows how active she was. She taught for 10 years in the Bristol-Warren school system, part of that time teaching special education, and did seemingly everything but fix the boiler. She chaperoned dances, coached cross country, moderated spelling bees, taught learning disabled teens how to drive, taught CCD classes at St. Augustines Church in the Fifth Ward, and participated in charity walks.

What doesnít fit into the white space in newspaper pages is how Kathy did things.

I met her about 10 years ago. If you talked to her for five minutes, she made you feel youíd be friends for a lifetime. Everything seemed to interest her, and she dispensed news faster than any human being Iíve ever met. A family member dubbed her "WADK."

Within 45 seconds, she could breakdown a yearís worth of activity and then dash off to some other event. Her sheer energy could leave you reeling, like Wile E. Coyote flattened by the Road Runner.

Mostly I saw her in summer months, when she worked for the concession stand at the folk and jazz festivals, handling five orders in a New York minute. During breaks sheíd sneak off to catch some of the music.

In the early Ď90s she was diagnosed with cancer, suffered through treatments and then recovered. When cancer hit the first time, Kathy waved optimism in peopleís faces. And she was rewarded, for a time, with remission.

In 1997, she told me she was enjoying the happiest moments of her life. That encounter was typical Kathy. Iíd ridden my bike to Fort Adams for the jazz festival. The sunny skies of morning turned into a downpour at dayís end.

My options were riding into hard rain or waiting out the storm. Kathy arrived and, within seconds, pulled the front tire off my bike and helped me lift the frame into the back of her car.

On the ride home, she chatted about the upcoming 20-year reunion of the Rogers High School Class of í77. Naturally, she was in the middle of the planning and awaited the party the way little kids await Christmas morning.

Thatís how she felt about things. Cynicism can be a trap of middle age and Kathy deftly ducked it.

In June 1998, she gave birth to her son Rory, and a day later learned she had metastatic breast cancer. She told me that August, "Iím staying optimistic. Iíve been through this before."

Yes, she lost the fight. But she experienced a wonderfully healthy stretch where she enjoyed life, her marriage, watched her son Brian Kinsella grow from little boy to young man and awaited the arrival of a new baby. It was as if pure drive willed her body to stay well for a time, to squeeze in so many good things.

Sometimes I donít think anything is as simple as the feeling of loss, the emotional holes that remain unfilled. And Iím sure, judging from the crowd that packed the OíNiell-Hayes Funeral Home Wednesday night, many on Aquidneck Island are grieving this week.

Itís perhaps better to believe that Kathy was given 100 years of life but was forced to cram them into just 41years. Full speed ahead, pedal to metal, was how she lived Ė always with a big smile.

On Christmas Eve, this newspaper printed a holiday essay by Kathy as part of our "Holiday Spirit" section that some have taken as a farewell. These are her words. A final message from an unselfish woman:

"I would like to send all of my love, Christmas wishes and a happy New Year to all who have enriched my life since the day I was born. You are all gifts that I cherish."