I met Kate in the Lake district in autumn. I remember the wet leaves on the paths, the clean air. It was a walk organized by the University of Leeds hiking society.  Kate was friendly, and tall like me, and doing a PhD in chemistry. She told me how much she loved living in her house in Meanwood. When later it turned out that she had spare rooms in the house for the coming academic year, I jumped at the chance.


Two other brilliantly lovely young women moved in too, and it was the nicest shared house I’d ever lived in. Those are our joint collection of teapots, keeping each other company on the top of the kitchen cupboard.

Kate was always buying flowers and baking cakes. We used to wake up to this amazing smell and a scrawled note to help outselves to home-made bread. We had a cleaning roster we stuck to and the house was always sparkling. We often had house meals – pancakes, waffles. Once Kate made this incredible French Onion soup. I hate onions, but it was amazing. Another time she made vegetarian shepherd’s pie. I made chocolate pudding. Ruth made quinoa. Heather made pizzas from scratch.

Our basement was crammed with bicycles, which we carried carefully over the clean kitchen floor, and balanced precariously down the stairs. It was a fifteen minute bike ride into town or to uni. There was always a copy of the Guardian on the kitchen table. The living room was filled with plants. The pin-up board was covered in postcards from all over the world.

Kate submitted her PhD in atmospheric chemistry (you know, climate change stuff) at the same time I handed in my thesis. Her viva was a couple of weeks before mine. She graduated the week before me, exactly three weeks ago (I stole this picture from her facebook page. I hope this is ok – tell me if it’s not). I didn’t get to see her while I was in Leeds because she was off in Germany checking out her new home. She’d been offered a two year post-doc in Mainz.


One week ago, Kate Furneaux was riding her bike in Leeds and a truck knocked her over and she died.

My other housemate, Ruth, rang to tell me yesterday. I can’t believe it. But it’s true. I am so angry at the world. I want to punch the walls down with my fists.

Kate really was incredible. Any one of her million friends will tell you. She had such enthusiasm, positivity, generosity. I have never met anyone with such lovely energy. She loved the world and her family and the friends she had a habit of collecting from several continents.

She was always last to go to bed, pottering around in the kitchen with a pot of exotic tea, cooking up some ridiculously healthy organic vegetables and chopping salad to take for lunch the next day. In the morning, she usually left the house before the rest of us had stumbled out of bed. She worked hard on her phd, spending long hours in her office at uni. But she was always off doing something exciting on the weekend – hiking or camping or visiting friends, or going to a festival or a football match. She moved out a couple of months before the rest of us did in order to do field work in Borneo. And it feels so hollow to write this because all we can do now is tell stories about her, and it’s not supposed to be like that. She’s supposed to be making her own stories. She’d just turned 27.

I went to yoga last night and I was doing ok, but at the end they played that song by Sting:

On and on the rain will fall

Like tears from a star

like tears from a star

On and on the rain will say

How fragile we are

how fragile we are

It was raining outside. I lay on my mat, breathing and alive, the way Kate should be. I lost it completely.

Because I don’t like how fragile we are. I think it’s crap.

24 thoughts on “Kate

  1. Oh Meli, I’m so sorry for your loss. How positively awful.

    Thank you for sharing some of your stories about Kate with us. You made me cry. She sounds like an amazing person who had so much to live for. So much to give.

  2. I’m so sorry about Kate. And I’m so sorry that life is this random and unfair and painful. I hope that you’re doing as well as can be expected right now and that you keep making lots of room and time for your emotions and your memories. You are part of how she lives on now.

  3. Dear Meli,

    I am so sorry. It is a complete mystery as to why some things happen. So terribly sad and unfair.

    love Fifi
    (back from Italy and havent read your blog for so long, really sad to find you grieving.)

  4. Yes. Mortality is really pissy. I read this and toyed with the idea of throwing away all the bikes on which we ride to work and — gulp — school. Very very sorry, Meli, for you and all who loved Kate.

  5. Dear Meli,

    I’m afraid i don’t know you, although i have visited your old house in leeds a few times, and Kate often spoke of you. My name is Jen and i knew Kate from her undergraduate days in sheffield. I just wanted to let you know that your post about Kate is beautifully apt, and gestures towards all the brilliant, generous, kind and joyful spirit of our friend. Thank-you for putting into words and pictures what i have not been able to. My thoughts are with Kate’s family at the moment, and with all her friends who have to bear this terrible loss. By remembering Kate, speaking of her, and fostering friendships in her name something of her enthusiasm and inspiration will stay with us.
    If you are able to attend i hope to see you at Kate’s celebration.

    with best wishes and fond smiles,
    jen xx

  6. How terrible Mel- we feel dreadfully upset to hear of such a sad tragic loss of her vibrant life, and are thinking of you, as well as of her poor family and other friends.
    xx M, D

  7. Mel, I am so sorry. It’s hard to lose a friend especially when they are so young. What a tragic thing to happen. She would have been touched by your post it is so beautiful and heartfelt. I’m thinking of you at this sad time.
    The fragility of our lives is crap you are right. Lots of love Liz xxx

  8. Thanks so much for your thoughts and comments, guys. It does help, a bit, to write about her and talk about her and tell people about her. And because I found myself repeatedly googling her name not just for details of what happened but for scraps of her presence, I wanted to offer a few of my own memories for anyone who was doing the same.

    Stephanie I know what you mean about the bikes. I cycle all the time. I used to cycle in Leeds, even on the big roads. I went for a ride tonight and it felt strange but I was glad I went.

    Mostly it still feels like it can’t possibly have happened.

    And her poor parents.

    Thanks Jen for sharing some of your memories and those beautiful words. I would love to meet you. I really wish I could make it to the celebration but I think it will be too hard to get there from Norway.

  9. Meli – thanks for this lovely post. I too met Kate at Leeds Uni. And I too felt so much anger when I learnt the terrible news – I’m not normally an angry person, but it feels so unfair … to Kate, her family and all the rest of us who will so sorely miss her. I’ve avoided looking for details of the accident until today – I don’t know what prompted me to look today, so thanks for providing your personal and truthful portrait.

    I’ll be at the celebration on Monday & I just hope that I can be strong enough to take part in the amazing spirit that Kate’s parents have planned for the day.

    My own approach to quelling the anger has been to keep remembering what a positive attitude Kate had to everything, and to try to help in making that live on.

    Best wishes,


  10. Love to you Meli. I hope the wings of angels carry her low enough that you can glimpse her when you skim the edge of the sky in your improbable flying machine.
    What a sad loss the world has had to bear.

    Love Pennixx

  11. Dear Mel,
    Thank you so much for your words.
    Thank you all so much for your beautiful comments and descriptions about my daughter Kate.

    I remember the time we spent in the kitchen one morning when I was visiting Kate. We had a good conversation about your work. I am glad you have now finished your PhD.

    To all who have written a reply to Mel’s message ..

    Don’t stop cycling .. just be more careful. Kate loved cycling.

    Life is fragile so do what Kate did .. live every minute and enjoy it.

    Go now and have a cup of tea .. not a tea bag in a cup .. but leaves brewed for at least 3 minutes in a tea pot. Sit with both hands round your favorite mug .. or even better in a china cup. Talk to someone .. be positive .. laugh .. ask questions about the other person … plan a walk …. bake a cake …make the most of your short life … Kate will be with you all the way.

    Beth and I are not doing well. Life is crap but that’s the way it is. Her friends’ wonderful descriptions of her give us a moments happiness … before sadness once again transcends. They say time heals .. or makes it easier .. but now, there is only one thing I want and I will never get it .. for Kate to ring up and say “Hi Dad” in her wonderful way.

    Enjoy your life … now ..

    Phil (Kate’s Dad)

  12. Oh Phil,

    I am so sorry that words and memories are all we have. It is so ridiculously unfair.

    I do think of Kate every time I have a proper cup of tea. When I was in Leeds last week I went to that funny little vegetarian cafe in the Grand Arcade and I had a pot of tea and a piece of cake and I thought of her. I wanted her to be there. Or in Germany, living out her new and shining days.

    I remember one night in at our house in Leeds we were eating rich chocolate cake her friend Alex had brought round, and Kate said – ‘I do like to have a little bit of something sweet every day, just a little bit – do you think that’s a bad thing?’ And I looked at her – so happy and healthy and super-slim – and I said, ‘no, that’s not a bad thing at all!’

    I remember meeting you too and I think of you and Beth often and I can’t imagine how hard and how stupidly persistent this loss must be. I wish for you many fragments of happiness to light this long path of grief. And I wish for you the simple calm of an autumn morning, the bare branches holding up the sky.

    But I know words and wishes are poor gifts.

    Much love,

  13. Tomorrow I go to Lancaster to continue the Borneo OP3 project meeting series.

    I knew Kate through various fieldwork projects, and every time I think of Borneo or Cape Verde I always think of her.

    Most of the time when I cycle into University, I think of Kate. When people have tea, I think of Kate.

    I am sad that I will not see Kate again, but infinitely more grateful to have known her in the first place.

    Kate most definitely is with us all the way.

    You’ll be missed but never forgotten.

    Martin x

  14. Hi

    I lost contact with kate after chemistry at sheffield years ago and have only just found out the terrible news after meeting up with a mutual friend. I was very saddened to hear this and immediately googled anything about it when i got home as it’s quite shocking and, almost as if i don’t believe??….i actually don’t know what to say other than she was such a lovely person, so genuine, always smiley and very intelligent. i’m so shocked 😦 my heart goes out to her family and close friends xxxx

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