A true ‘Trini’ has died, but her life should remind Trinbagonians how to be good citizens

Screenshot of Kathryn Stollmeyer-Wight taken from the HG Caribbean YouTube video ‘The Many Uses of Calabash!’

I can't remember exactly when I met Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight, but once I did, I felt like I'd known her forever. Judging by the outpouring of grief after her daughter shared news of her death on the morning of February 16, much of Trinidad and Tobago felt exactly the same way. Whether people knew her personally or interacted with her only through Facebook, they shared a special bond. Kathryn Stollmeyer Wight, you see, was something practically every citizen of this country proudly claims to be — a Trini — but do we understand what that truly means?

Kathy had known for some time death was coming. Diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a hereditary lung disease from which her own mother had died and for which there is no cure, she had been chronicling her experience with the disease on Facebook, where she shared pretty much everything. All her posts were public, whether she was writing about family and friends, sharing her thoughts on political or social issues, laughing at jokes, or simply dispensing wisdom.

Facebook was her village. To this day, the story of Kathy joining the social media platform makes me chuckle. At the time, Facebook's demographic was much younger, and her son joked that it would probably be a waste of her time since she wouldn't get many friends. When Kathy told me this back in the mid-2000s, she probably had over 1,000 Facebook friends. By the time she died, Kathy's friend group had reached almost 5,000, with close to 2,000 followers.

She used Facebook to bring people together, which was only part of the reason all her posts were public. The other part, I suspect, was that Kathy had nothing to hide. She wasn't the type to say one thing in public and another behind closed doors. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a warm, welcoming, giant-hearted Trini woman who was always willing to include someone new, reach out to someone on the fringes, learn something she didn't know before, smile and laugh and do things that helped people, shine a light. Her light — and it was a dazzling one.

The level of awareness Kathy's passing has attracted is usually reserved for people who excelled at a particular discipline, advocated for specific causes, were public/political figures, or practitioners of music, culture, and the arts, things that tend to have an effect on people. Kathy made an impact by just being — which is not to say she didn't do. She did a lot; it just wasn't in one area of endeavour.

Born in 1956, Kathryn was the only girl in a family of four children born to Jeffrey and Sara Stollmeyer. She grew up in the verdant Santa Cruz valley, a rural area in north Trinidad, where the family grew cocoa and other fruit. It was an environment that nurtured her reverence for the natural world, and formed an early appreciation for the value of community. In a 2020 interview, she recalled that “everybody lived from the estate and made do. If you had a chicken, it could be divided among the whole community.”

She attended The Bishop Anstey High School in Port of Spain, after which she went to college in Canada, but the cold, dark winters were too much for her Caribbean sensibility; she returned to Trinidad without finishing her degree and got a job as a Montessori teacher. The mother of one of her students happened to work at British West Indies Airways (BWIA), Trinidad and Tobago's national airline (since rebranded as Caribbean Airlines). The idea of being a flight attendant thrilled her. Not only would she be interacting with people (Kathy was a born people person), but she could travel the world, visit museums, see great works of art. It was right up her alley.

At 20 years old, she applied, got the job, and worked at BWIA for the next 18 years, working her way up the ranks to the position of purser. She was passionate about and supportive of the national airline even after she retired, and maintained close friendships with her BWIA peers. She married Gregory Wight, the love of her life, partner, and “pardner” (as in, best friend), with whom she had three children: Sophie, Ada Kate, and Jeffrey Hugh. She and “Gregors,” as she called him, shared a similar worldview, rooted in the fact that they were Trinbagonian before anything else.

When Kathy's beloved father, a West Indian cricketer and Trinidad and Tobago independent senator, died of injuries he received during a home invasion in 1989, it was a gruelling time. A lesser person might have allowed the murder to harden her; make her bitter, or want to leave. Trinidad and Tobago can sometimes be a cruel place, but Kathy always chose to see the beauty, and to try and make it kinder. She did this by calling on her wide and diverse community. Along with her BWIA colleagues, for instance, she would cook and distribute meals to local non-profits like Kids in Need of Direction. She often advocated for the important work of organisations like the local chapter of Habitat for Humanity, always trying to make a difference from the ground up.

She was, for many years, one of the main galvanisers in her neighbourhood of Blue Range, where her vibrantly coloured, gingerbread-style house was a loving nod to her country childhood. If a non-Trinbagonian wanted to understand what it meant to be a citizen of this country, the pieces would all come together in Kathy's house, which she opened to anyone who needed it, and which doubled as headquarters to collect donations and distribute them to people in need. From her dense tropical garden (which she lovingly tended with the skill of a professional horticulturalist) and the array of local art that adorned the walls of her home, to the compassion she showed both inside and out of it, Kathy was flying the flag. She was an excellent interior decorator, and had a natural instinct for design — even her handwriting was art. She would regularly and proudly use local objects in her décor and when entertaining, but her Trini-ness went way beyond the external; it sprang from deep down in her generous heart.

Anywhere she saw a need, she was moved to meet it. She tried to make a difference by becoming a member of a political party for a short while, but in the end, most of her work was done on her own, with a little help from her friends. When learning about the plight of Judah Lovell, for example, a young boy who was badly burned in a bamboo bursting accident in 2009, Kathy was instrumental in helping him get the medical attention he so badly needed. He, like so many others, was part of the steady stream of visitors who came to see Kathy before she passed.

For this, and for so many other things, in 2013 her alma mater, Bishop Anstey, honoured Kathy as its past pupils’ association's first-ever People's Choice honouree. For loving everyone around her the very same way she loved her nearest and dearest. For supporting and highlighting any effort, no matter how small, towards the path of beauty and creativity, towards goodness and Trini-ness. For being a beacon. For understanding that genuine giving only multiplies. For reminding us what love and vulnerability and truth look like. For getting involved. For standing up. For speaking out. For doing so many of the substantive things we may far too easily exchange for a hollow show of Trini-ness.

Once, when discussing some of the challenges our country faced, Kathy told me she had asked her father if he felt he'd made a difference during his time serving as a senator. He replied that he wasn't sure. I am sure, though, that Kathy made a difference — and for every day of her long goodbye on Facebook, she was sending us a message: Now, it's our turn to be true Trinis.

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