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Katharine MacKinnon Morgan, age 80, passed peacefully at home with her family at her side on December 10, 2020. The cause of death was gastric cancer. She approached life with curiosity, humor, dignity, perseverance, and a sense of adventure. Katharine valiantly managed symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease for more than 40 years. She did not allow it to deter her from sharing her love of fine cooking and baking, pursuing her study of music and opera, travelling the world, and above all, showering her two sons, husband, and extended family with support and love.
Born and raised in Bathurst, New Brunswick, she developed deep connections with her sisters and her special cousin Hazel with whom she shared many adventures. Eager for metropolitan life after high school, she was admitted to the nurses’ training program at Montreal General Hospital and graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1961. Her Aunt Helen Foley, who served in the United States Women’s Army Corps in World War II, inspired her career choice and her move to California. After working at Southern Pacific Hospital in San Francisco, Katharine became a civilian operating room nurse at Letterman General Hospital in the Presidio where she became highly respected for her ability to anticipate and manage stressful situations. She fell in love with Northern California and knew she had found her home.
In October 1965, she met Daniel D. Morgan Jr. M.D. Having just finished a tour in Korea as a battalion surgeon with the Infantry, Daniel was assigned to the Orthopedic Service at the Presidio. Katharine paid little attention to him when he tried to chat her up. A few months later, in February, he was able to give her a ride home from a hospital party. The timing was finally right. Katharine agreed to a date. They planned dinner and a movie and were both pleasantly surprised that they both wanted to see “To Die in Madrid,” a documentary about the Spanish Civil War. It was not a light topic for a first date, but it was telling. They discovered their mutual interest in learning and ideas. They would go on to foster their shared passion for literature and history, travel and adventure, music and theatre. Those passions were shared with friends and family — their enthusiasm was infectious.
In August, Daniel set off on a cross-country drive to start his Orthopedic Residency at Walter Reed. Katharine, from a long line of expert bakers, made cream cheese brownies and other treats for his cross-country journey. She watched him drive away, not sure of their future, but the effect of the care package became family lore. After making it back east and spending a large portion of his salary on a long-distance phone bill, Daniel knew what he needed to do. In late August, he picked up the phone and told her that he had something important to say. She feared that it was goodbye. Instead, he proposed, on the phone, right then and there. On Friday November 11, 1966, they married at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
Katharine worked on Labor & Delivery at Fort Belvoir until Daniel’s training moved them to Washington, DC, where she joined the National Institutes of Health as an operating room nurse. In November 1968, they welcomed their first son at Walter Reed and she paused her nursing career to focus on family. After Daniel completed his service in Vietnam in 1971, they were reunited in Fremont, California, where Katharine had moved to join her sister Joyce Lewis. Daniel started a successful, career-long practice in Orthopedic Surgery at Washington Hospital. They welcomed their second son in June 1972.
Katharine was a renaissance woman. Her lifelong love of opera was inspired by her mother who listened to the Metropolitan Opera’s radio broadcasts. Katharine studied opera and attended performances around the world. She challenged habit, tradition, and the status quo. Her favorite authors included William Faulkner and Mary Anne Evans, reflecting her interests in social justice for all. She reveled in using flowers and linens to bring color and occasion to everyday moments and extraordinary food. She brought family together, understanding the importance of every-day contact. She cheered her sons’ interest in numerous sports, fostering in them lifelong passions for racquet sports and fitness. She was overjoyed to see her younger son pursue acting. She took great pride from his performances in Master Harold and the Boys at Sierra Repertory Theatre and later when earning a Masters of Fine Arts at the American Conservatory Theatre. Despite the significant challenges of Parkinson’s Disease, she was the consummate host. She shared her favorite haunts—Chez Panisse, the Presidio, Coit Tower, Lombard Street (with a quick trip to Swensen’s ice cream, important site of another date with Daniel), and the natural beauty of Northern California—the Marin Headlands, Point Reyes, Monterey, Carmel, Big Sur, Point Lobos, Wine Country, and Yosemite. And in doing so, she affixed the experiences of these places in the hearts of her extended family.
In 2004 and 2005, Katharine and Daniel attended their sons’ weddings, actually hosting one in their home. In the ensuing years, she was thrilled by the arrival of grandchildren. With great perseverance, she and Daniel travelled frequently to connect with their grandchildren. In Katharine’s last years, this grew too difficult due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease. In 2015, they moved to Davis, California to be closer to Preston Lindsay Morgan, their younger son, and his family. Preston practices Family Law in Davis and he and Mary Blue Morgan are dedicated co-parents of Katharine (14) and Preston (12). Their older son, Daniel McBurney Morgan MD is a Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology and is married to Helen Kang Morgan MD, Associate Professor of Obstetrics & Gynecology, both at the University of Michigan. They live in Ann Arbor with their children Madeleine (14) and Hazel (10). Two nieces, Sonja Schoonover and Sharon Kosecki, and a nephew Richard Schoonover, all who reside in Arizona, survive her. Cousins Hazel Copp (and Robert, her spouse), Wayne Foley (and Nelda, his spouse), Stephanie Copp, and Melanie Dobrijevic and her family maintained Katharine’s strong connection to Canada. She is preceded in death by her sisters Joyce Lewis and Janice Schoonover.
Katharine was interested in providing support to individuals at risk due to violence, preserving reproductive rights, and supporting research for Parkinson’s Disease. In lieu of flowers, please consider gifts to causes to which she regularly donated. Those include: Safe Alternatives to Violent Environments Inc. (https://save-dv.org/), 1900 Mowry Ave., Suite 201 Fremont, CA 94538, 510-794-6055; Planned Parenthood; and Parkinson’s Research (https://www.parkinson.org) 1359 Broadway, Suite 1509, New York, NY 10018 at (212) 923-4700.
A celebration of life ceremony will be planned for the Spring or Summer 2021 when we anticipate being able to bring family and friends together again in person.
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