Kathie Sharp

Kathie began working with the USAP at Pole about 20 years ago; she wintered twice--first as a scientist in 1993 with a NOAA wind profiling radar project based in the Clean Air Facility, but not part of the long-term GMCC project. She was the 29th woman to winter at least once at Pole.

Kathie wintered again in 1995 as one of the ASA meteorologists. During those years her name was Kathie Sharp, but as that marriage had ended, she later changed back to her maiden name Kathie Hill.

Kathie returned to the USAP when she was hired as the meteorology coordinator for RPSC in July 2002. As such she hired and trained the met people for all three stations, and she visited all of them frequently. We exchanged a few emails, she asked me a couple of historical questions.

Twelve years ago Al Baker began working at Pole, first as the RPSC winterover cryogenics technician in 2001, and later as the permanent science coordinator.

Both Kathie and Al worked full time in the Denver RPSC office; eventually they fell in love, and they were married in 2007. Kathie left the USAP about that time to take a job at another branch of Raytheon in Denver. Al kept deploying to the Pole working for RPSC, and later for an ASC subcontractor. They bought a home in Greenbank on Whidbey Island (near Seattle, the area where Al is from) a few years ago, presumably planning to retire there eventually.

In 2012 both Al and Kathie were telecommuting to their jobs in Denver. They also had been operating a popular pizza parlor on the island since June 2011.

In early June of 2012, Kathie's employer in Denver had not heard from her recently and contacted the Greenbank police. After investigations, a search found her body behind their home on 9 June. Al was taken into custody. Al turned 62 in June 2012; Kathie was 53.

Let's not think about that. Let us instead look at that summer 1994-95 photo of Kathie at Pole and reflect on her joy at doing something important and fun amongst a group of great people.

Kathie Hill celebration of life programThe story behind the photo is an amazing tribute to Kathie. It was taken by photographer Ann Hawthorne, who writes: "I will not forget Kathie or the day we made the photographs of her at Pole. Your camera-shy friend was most reluctant but finally agreed 'in the interest of science' to let me photograph a balloon release. It was beautiful and cold that day, of course. Kathie laughed at the very idea of such a photograph - turning loose one of the myriad of weather balloons - something she saw as a mundane task. But she was game. What I've always loved about my memory of that moment was her joy as she released the balloon crying out, 'Fly, fly free!!' That is how I do and shall remember her."

Ann Hawthorne made four trips to Antarctica as part of the NSF Artists and Writers Program, most recently in 2005. The photograph is © Ann Hawthorne and is used here with her special permission. Thank you Ann for the photo and the commentary! (More of Ann's Antarctic photos can be seen here.)

Here is Kathie's obituary. A memorial service for her was held on 21 June on Whidbey Island. A celebration of her life was held at the Bergen Park Church in Evergreen, CO (a Denver suburb) on 4 August 2012. I attended it. Here is the program (PDF), the first page is pictured at right.

After the ceremony there was a dedicated balloon launch outside the church, followed by a gathering in nearby Bergen Park, with food and music by family and friends.

fly, fly free
(photo by Elaine Hood)