May 15, 1981 to November 27, 2005
by Sandra Olivetti Martin
By nature Trees do rot when they are grown.
And Plumbs and Apples thoroughly ripe do fall,
And Corn and grass are in their season mown,
And time brings down what is both strong and tall.
But... buds new blown, to have so short a date...
She was just a girl.
At 24, Dawn Kittrell bubbled with youth’s promise. She dyed her hair orange, suffered boyfriend trouble, drove a junker (the ex-boyfriend’s), courted and found love, took incompletes in college courses and devoured Popeye’s Fried Chicken.
She thought she could do anything, and she was ready to do something. So she applied for job after job, seeking the door that would open to her touch, revealing her staircase to the stars. You never can tell where you’ll meet your fate, so she sold cookies and dashed out applications to work as an administrative assistant in serious business. But she gravitated to artful work, and she couldn’t resist places whose names rang with stellar aspiration.
Music was her thing; you reached her by email at vln short for violin goddess. Her father, whose musical love and aptitude she’d inherited, still sees “the little blond girl whose feet would not touch the floor,” playing with Chesapeake Youth Symphony. At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, she earned a B.A. in music and traveled twice to Italy for a college concert tour. By the age of 21, she’d twice risen to concert mistress, graduating from Chesapeake Youth Symphony to COSMIC or Chamber Orchestra of Southern Maryland in Concert. She led their string section as well as (she wrote in her resume) “making decisions about string bowrings, fingerings and phrasings Resolving intra-orchestra conflicts.”
At the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, Dawn scheduled space and sought her spiritual destiny and earthly purpose in monthly full-moon circles.
And at Bay Weekly, she tried her hand at writing. She could, after all, type 98 words a minute (she was a girl good with her fingers). And, as she wrote in applying to work as a music critic, she not only knew classical music, she’d “dated a jazz musician.”
Dawn pursued her stories, pushing them into print. She debuted in Bay Weekly with Animal Music Makes Family Fun (Vol. xiii, No. 9: March 3), on the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s Peter and the Wolf performance. She had stories in issues 9, 10 and 13. This was a girl who could work to deadline.
Dawn was pushing deadline in more ways than one. The cane she walked with was not an affectation of style. During her senior year at St. Mary’s College, she had been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. That’s why she’d taken those incompletes, why she earned her degree in 2005 rather than in 2004.
That’s why, after that first burst, her later stories trickled in.
“This cancer has a penchant for striking back up at the worst times, and I am mentally and physically exhausted all around,” she wrote me in July. “I know I am very sick, but I wish I didn’t keep making excuses. When I find some new stories and have my head about me again, I will let you know ASAP.”
She bounced back a couple of weeks later with an August 18 (Vol. xiii, No. 33) story, Vacation with Summer Strings, on the St. Paul Summer String Orchestra.
I didn’t hear from Dawn again until mid-autumn, by which time she was too sick to write another story though she had one underway. She died in the evening of November 27, surrounded by love and music.
“Hope was all Dawn had,” said her father, Richard Kittrell. “At the end, she was still planning ahead.”
Dawn’s life will be celebrated at 2pm December 18 at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis, 333 DuBois Rd: 410-266-8044.