Katharine Popenoe

Obituary of Katharine S. Popenoe

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Katharine Sassé Popenoe died at home, surrounded by her family, on Thanksgiving Day. She was 83. Kate was born into the family of an Episcopal minister in Newtown, PA on March 15, 1933. After the outbreak of World War II her father became an army chaplain and she began an itinerant life, living first with her beloved grandmother in Atlantic City, and later with her family in, among other places, Enterprise, Alabama and Paso Robles, California, before settling in Tucson, Arizona where she attended high school. Kate followed her mother and brother to Swarthmore College where she majored in psychology, graduating in 1955. While working in Philadelphia after college Kate met David Popenoe, a Californian, whose love and partnership enriched her life until the end. Her father officiated at their marriage in 1959 at Trinity Church in Princeton. Their daughters, Becky and Julie, were born while they lived on Glenview Drive, West Windsor; they later moved to Loomis Court near the Princeton schools; and then to Moore Street where she lived until the time of her death. Kate was a devoted mother and accomplished home-maker. She bestowed her nurturing touch not only on her own children and husband but on all who came within her orbit. With careful planning and curiosity about the world, she turned two of her husband’s sabbatical stays abroad, one in Sweden and one in England, into magical, enlightening experiences for the whole family. She was a loving and generous host mother to two Swedish exchange students, Kari and Lisa Hellermark, and throughout her life and career befriended and supported students from far-flung lands. After receiving her masters degree in social work at Bryn Mawr College in 1958, Kate worked as a psychiatric social worker at the Child Guidance Center in Trenton before she had children. She served in many volunteer capacities including as president of the Board of the Princeton Family Service Agency in the 1970’s, and on the boards of Chapin School, Family Service Association of America, and the Princeton Area League of Women Voters. After her children were grown she returned to full-time work first as a Senior Admission Officer at Princeton University and later at The Lawrenceville School, where she spent many fulfilling years as an Associate Director of College Counseling and, finally, as Assistant Headmaster, before her retirement in 1998. Kate had an insightful intelligence; a renaissance knowledge of art, language and literature; and was a beautiful writer. She was also a talented drawer, especially of people, and played the piano with feeling and verve up until a few months before her death. A self-taught tennis player with graceful strokes, she enjoyed the local tennis community into her late 60’s. Even as the dementia that marked the last decade of her life advanced, she continued to be engaged with life and to show love and kindness to all she encountered. Kate is survived by her husband of 57 years, David Popenoe, a Rutgers professor emeritus; her daughters Rebecca Popenoe, PhD of Stockholm, Sweden; and Julia Popenoe, MD of East Lansing, Michigan; her grandchildren Clara and Niklas Popenoe Thor, and Sarah and Silas Brainard; and her sons-in-law Johan Thor and Daniel Brainard. She is predeceased by her mother and father, Katharine J. Snyder Sassé and the Rev. Lewis Sassé II and her brother Lewis Sassé. A burial service took place at her childhood church, St. Luke’s, Newtown PA. A memorial service will be held on March 4, 2017 in Princeton.
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