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Remembering Kitty Garner: The Renaissance woman

 Young Kitty Garner hugging family friend William Davis.
Kitty Garner/Instagram
Young Kitty Garner hugging family friend William Davis, who inspired her nonprofit organization, The LoveBolt.

Katherine "Kitty" Dudley Garner, founder of The LoveBolt, a Charlotte-based nonprofit committed to eliminating systemic racism, died on Oct. 7 after a seven-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 57.

Garner founded The LoveBolt in honor of family friend William Edward Davis Jr., an African American man who was born during Jim Crow and lived in the South, according to The LoveBolt's Creative Director Henry Davis.

Garner told Davis that William Davis (no relation) was one of the most Christ-like people she had ever known. She explained to Davis that as a child she couldn't understand why William Davis, who she viewed as a father figure, was treated so differently from others. The fact that he was not given the same opportunities as others despite his many talents deeply disturbed her, Davis said.

"She would be the first to tell you that she fell into the 'con of colorblindness' and thought that if we didn't see color that would be the way to handle" racism, Davis said. "But she discovered and came to the deep realization that that's not doing anything. In fact, it's making things worse because we're ignoring the realities of racism, and we're allowing it to make us pons of its game. You can't start a fair race with one another when someone is 100 ahead and expect it to be an equal race.”

From that realization, The LoveBolt was created, and nothing could stop Garner's commitment to its mission, not even cancer.

"When she got diagnosed, she gave me a call to tell me, 'We're going to keep pushing forward and this means too much to me,’ ” Davis said. “Family has always come first for her, and she had so much love for her kids. I think that desire to see a change in our kids’ generation was a big motivation for this work."

In a message on The LoveBolt's website, Garner described it this way: "As a nation, we now find ourselves in a surreal time and have what I believe is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take action and bring the reality of our nation closer to fulfilling the vision of our founders rather than continuing to live the legacy of their hypocrisy. This is not a time for box checks or performative allyship; this is a time when we need to make a sustained commitment to effect change."

The LoveBolt issued a statement in response to Garner's death saying: "Kitty's extraordinary creativity, intensive research, and compassionate heart - created the perfect blend for change. We miss Kitty dearly but are honored to carry forward her legacy through this vital work."

Those who knew Garner described her as a vibrant, caring, fearless person who was a genuinely good friend.

She had a deep curiosity of life, diving into many interests particularly tennis, skiing and even piloting airplanes.

Among her many accomplishments, from being a practicing attorney, an interior designer and eventually diving into the nonprofit world, she was also deeply immersed in Charlotte's modern art and design.

Garner was a founding trustee for the Bechtler Museum of Modern Arts. Executive Director Todd D. Smith said in a statement:

"Katherine 'Kitty' Garner was a vibrant force within Charlotte's art and culture community. She was generous with her time and shared her passion for the arts as a founding trustee for the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art throughout the 2010s. Since then, she remained an active and valued supporter of the museum, and along with her husband Ted, who served as Board Chair from 2019-2021, she helped shape Bechtler in immeasurable ways. The Board of Trustees and staff are thinking of her family and the community, as we all mourn her passing."

Davis said in the 18 months he worked with Garner, she taught him that people should not wait for their passions to find them but, instead, should choose to be passionate.

"Kitty embodies passion. She lived with passion in everything she did. In every conversation that she showed up to with me and up to the moment I was at the end of her bed toward the end of her life — even though she didn't have the energy — I could always feel it.

"She is the renaissance woman," Davis said. "She had such a fiery energy, not in an abrasive way.... You want her in your space."

Garner was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. She met her husband, Frederic Howard Garner, when she was a student at Davidson College, where she earned her degree in English. The couple married in 1988. Garner attended law school at the University of Virginia and earned her law degree in 1989.

She is survived by her husband of 33 years; her four children, Elizabeth Lindsay, Frederic Howard Jr., Katherine Mebane and Ann Cameron; and her parents, Elizabeth Lindsay Wall and Charles Trawick Dudley Jr.

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