Kathleen Coffey Obituary (1932 – 2022) – San Francisco, CA
September 3, 1932 – December 17, 2022
St. Peter and his Band of Happy Angels smiled around 3:30 am on December 17, 2022. Kathleen Mary Coffey, an all-time favorite, came walking back in, home from a most remarkable ninety-plus year journey through this life. Coincidentally, or maybe meaningfully, a sharp, quick earthquake hit the City just after.
Katy was born on September 3, 1932 in Racine, Wisconsin, theretofore known best as the home of JI Case, SC Johnson Wax and kringle. Not Madison, not Milwaukee, but also not Kenosha, it was a working class town, and Katy was always proud of, and grounded in, her working class roots.
Katy spent her early years growing up on her maternal grandparents’ farm outside Racine. Later she moved with her mom, Julia, and siblings, Bob, Dolores, Ruth and Jim, into town and their new home on Riverside Drive, along the banks of the Root River just after it passes under the West 6th Street overpass and before it makes its last big turn on its way to Lake Michigan. A pretty girl, it was from that overpass that suitors would later croon down to her the post-WW 1 era hit song, KKK Katy. Katy never knew her dad.
After graduating from Washington Park High School in 1950, Katy went to work for Johnson Wax. She was well on her way to a successful career there when, at the urging of great friends, Florence and Don Sorauf, she met an aspiring writer and soon-enough-to-be Professor of English Literature, Warren James Coffey. They married on Katy’s birthday in 1955 and, in line with one of the greatest of Catholic traditions, the kids started coming until there were seven of them by 1968: Sam, Jane, John, Nora, Maria, Hugh and Devin.
As Warren pursued his advanced degrees and tenure track positions, the family moved from Racine, to Madison, to Duluth, to Boston and, finally in 1960, to San Francisco where Warren began teaching English at the University of San Francisco. They arrived at a time when the rest of the country still thought of San Francisco as just a “pretty little gem out there on the coast.” They lived in the Haight on Clayton Street, just down the hill from USF and up the street from the Panhandle. They were proud members of St Agnes Parish and the children attended St Agnes School, just up the hill from the mythical intersection of Haight and Ashbury. A simple person, a child of the Midwest and an even prouder child of the Depression, little did Katy know that she’d moved into what became the magical world of the beatniks, the mystical world of the hippies, a shattered world in the late 60s and 70s and, ultimately, America’s cultural lab, the tech center of the universe and a global treasure.
In December 1970, almost to the day 53 years before her death, Warren suddenly died, leaving Katy with 7 children, the oldest of whom was 14 and the youngest just shy of 3. At forty and fourteen years removed from the workforce, Katy took on her greatest role: resolute, devoted mom determined to make sure her children came out okay. She started by moving them to 21st Avenue in the Sunset. The kids hated the idea of leaving the Haight, so Katy agreed they would continue at St Agnes, but she’d found a house of her own for them, and “darn it” that was that. From there, she simply and selflessly put her head down, put one foot in front of the other every minute of every day, took life one day at a time and went back to work. After a series of temporary jobs, Katy began a 20+-year career working for the Army on the Presidio. For all those years while the kids were in school she was up at 5 am and on the 28-19th Avenue bus at 6 am to the Presidio, so she could be on the 3:30 pm bus back to be there when the kids got home from school. And it worked. All those kids came out just fine, and 3 of them (with the help of their spouses) produced 8 wonderful grandchildren, all of whom worshiped Katy and were immensely loved and enjoyed by her until the day she died. Which she did peacefully with Jane and Nora at her side in that now longtime home in the Sunset.
Mother, grandmother, godmother, aunt, faithful friend, wife, fan of the Giants (particularly Randy Wynn), 49ers (particularly Ronnie Lott and the Great Montana), Warriors (particularly Klay), Packers (particularly Coach Haskell back in the day) , Brewers (particularly Bob Eucker), the St. Ignatius Wildcats, the Riordan Crusaders, LeBron James, Steve Harvey, Jeopardy, movies, KQED and reading, Katy was a hero to her family, an inspiration to folks whose lives she touched and an all around decent person. She was honest, happy, optimistic, friendly, open, loving, non-judgmental and generous-she also had a most wonderful sense of humor, and an ability to laugh easily (including at herself) and enjoy the simple beautiful things in this life . She’ll be greatly missed by her children, their spouses, Adriene (Sam), Jeff (Nora), Joyce (Hugh) and Gwen (Devin), grandchildren, Conor, Sara, Jordan, Caroline, Cameron, William, Emma and Carly , and all who knew her.
Humble to the end, Katy asked that there be no services. Fr. Tom Martin, himself a St. Agnes man, administered Last Rights to Katy a few weeks before her passing, and she made sure not to do any sinning after that. The family is planning a celebration in the Spring when it’s warm again and the flowers are in bloom. Katy was a fan of young people and education, particularly as done by the Jesuits and the Sisters of the Presentation, if one is inclined towards contributions.
The family is greatly indebted to the medical and hospice teams at Kaiser-San Francisco, particularly the Great Molly Dudley. Thanks so much to all y’all.
Published by San Francisco Chronicle on Dec. 26, 2022.
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