Farewell, Kathy Mathis

This summer we said goodbye to someone who embodies the mission and spirit of New Hampshire Humanities, longtime program director Dr. Kathy Mathis. In every project Kathy has envisioned and brought to life, participants have been challenged to consider new knowledge, different perspectives, and our shared humanity. Her tireless dedication and creative force have given thousands upon thousands of New Hampshire citizens the delight in discovery, ideas, and possibilities.

Knowing of Kathy’s impending retirement, we asked former executive director Debbie Watrous, who worked with Kathy for more than two decades, to reflect on Kathy’s impact on New Hampshire’s cultural landscape.

"For 25 years, Kathy Mathis has been inspiring the citizens of New Hampshire to look at the world around them in new ways. Whether enabling others to find solace in the shared reading of ancient texts or challenging the human implications of cutting-edge scientific discoveries, Kathy’s ferocious intellect and unbounded curiosity have led to the development of innovative public humanities programming for residents in every city and town and from every walk of life," Watrous wrote.

"It will be difficult for me to imagine New Hampshire Humanities without Kathy. How many minds have been opened and changed because of her work? How fortunate so many of us have been to have had Kathy to share her special gifts with us." Janet Ward, former Board chair

The lives of combat veterans and refugees, residents from all political spectrums and faith traditions, high school students, teachers, and lifelong learners of all ages have been enhanced by the programming Kathy has imagined and brought to fruition. The initiatives she created over the years have fostered new partnerships and sometimes spurred those partners to expand on Kathy’s initial ideas, taking them in directions she never envisioned.

As Watrous shared, "True understanding comes from breaking down barriers of difference – learning about one another and building empathy from that understanding. Kathy Mathis has given that gift to tens of thousands of New Hampshire residents through the stunning array of public humanities programs that she has created and inspired others to create."

A note from Kathy on retirement:

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

It is time to say farewell although I have not fully encompassed the idea nor the pattern of retirement. I just know that it is time. As a parting message, I could recite the names of projects past, as Donald Hall recited the names of horses. But it would take too much time. YOU who were there know what we did and the outcomes impossible to measure fully. For me, these projects – which you made happen – are like buried treasure, but close to the surface; I just pry open the lid.

We befriended one another over the years as we thought and planned together, doing our good work. The years have been fruitful. I have not looked at the clock very much. As colleagues, friends, grantees, volunteers, you gave me stories to fill my marrow. How does one say thank you for such gifts freely given? Some of you are old friends. We go way back – how far I dare not say. We put tinder to our passions, firing them into experience. We made happen what we imagined. Much was expected and much given. How does one say thank you for such generosity of mind and spirit? In the past two years, making friends among the veteran community, I have developed a new synapse that fires with the pain of moral injury suffered by those processing war service and homecoming. I can’t let this go.

What I really wanted was to make knee-smacker programs, relevant and memorable, and that desire drove me to stay and stay. Sometimes the heights of our discourse were dizzying. It’s been a good run and I am still standing, running in fact. My life is overflowing with the bounty of our working relationships. We are connected by a common thread – appreciation for the opportunities to talk about beauty, truth, big matters, the chance to tell our stories and to be heard.