Catherine "Kitty" Houghton
SingersMarin will dedicate its 25th anniversary concert at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco on April 23 to chorus member and benefactor Catherine "Kitty" Houghton, 70, the former longtime Tiburon property owner and retired United States foreign service officer who was killed two weeks ago. The Singers Marin concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available through City Box Office at 392-4400.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. March 3, at San Rafael Christian Science Church 1618 Fifth Avenue, San Rafael.
Ms. Houghton was slain on Jan. 25 in an apparently unprovoked attack by a stranger while visiting New Hampshire. She was reportedly standing at the refreshments stand in the lobby of the Hampton Inn hotel in Littleton, making herself a cup of coffee before heading off to a meeting at White Mountain School, where she was a trustee. Another hotel patron walked up to her and stabbed her in the neck and torso. She died of her injuries at a nearby hospital. The alleged attacker, Rodney Hill of nearby West Danville, Vt., was taken into custody and has been charged with two counts of second-degree murder.
In a Feb. 1 press release jointly issued by the New Hampshire Attorney General, New Hampshire State Police and Littleton Police Chief, officials said Ms. Houghton died of the wounds to her neck. The release also disclosed that her alleged killer is being held at the Grafton County House of Corrections. A probable cause hearing was set for Feb. 5. In New Hampshire, the Attorney General's Office handles all first- and second-degree murder cases, Senior Assistant Attorney General Susan Morell said.
A feature story about Ms. Houghton's remarkable career in the diplomatic corps appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Ark. She grew up in Reno, Nev., the daughter of Samuel G. Houghton and Edda K. Morrison. She graduated from St. Mary-of-the-Mountains School (later renamed White Mountain School) and went on to earn her bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley and her master's and doctoral degrees in linguistics from Stanford University.
After graduating from Cal, she served in the Peace Corps in Nepal. She worked for Bank of America International in New York and DuPont before joining the United States Foreign Commercial Service in 1979, working at embassies all over the world during the course of her 28-year career in public service. She spoke 14 languages and was fluent in six of them, including Mandarin and Bengali.
Following her retirement from the Foreign Service in 2007, she moved to Novato and continued to lead a very active life, said her family. She sang first alto and served on the board of SingersMarin's parent organization, Choral Singers of Marin. She served on the board of the Indian Valley Associates homeowners association.
She joined the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, in 1996 and was membership chair for the Marin chapter. Recently, she had been working on a film about the Nepali chapter of the Ninety-Nines.
She learned to fly in Africa and kept her plane at Petaluma Airport. She became a volunteer pilot for both Angel Flight and Lighthawk, nonprofit organizations that provide transportation for those in need.
She was a member of the Christian Science church in Belvedere starting in the '70s and taught Sunday school there. She recently served as First Reader at the First Church of Christ, Scientist, Novato.
An avid skier, hiker and musician all her life, she was always slight in build and remained very fit. She enjoyed classical music, world music and theater. Her friends around the world were very important to her and she made regular visits for the purpose of keeping up with them, her family said.
"Kitty left the world an amazing legacy, a standard of generosity, achievement and compassion to which all may aspire," her family said.
She is survived by two sisters, Linda Houghton Krantz of Portola Valley and Monica Houghton of Washoe Valley, Nev.; a step-sister, Judy Nash of Reno, Nev.; and several nieces and nephews.
"Kitty touched many lives, in many corners of the globe, and all who wish to memorialize her are encouraged to do so in a fashion and at the time appropriate to each," her family said.
Donations may be sent to the Catherine Houghton Arts Center, White Mountain School, 371 West Farm Road, Bethlehem, NH 03574.
Ex-Tiburon resident slain in N.H. was globetrotting diplomat
During her long career in the U.S. Foreign Service, Catherine "Kitty" Houghton, a former longtime Tiburon resident and property owner, lived in some the most dangerous places in the world.
Ironically and tragically, it was only after she retired and returned home to the U.S. that Houghton, 70, met with a violent end.
On Jan. 25, Houghton became the victim of a baffling and seemingly random stabbing in the lobby of her New Hampshire hotel, where she was staying on a visit to the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, her high school alma mater. She had been a member of the board of trustees since 2010 and was there for its tri-annual meeting; she stayed late to attend a rehearsal of its a capella choir.
Houghton died at Littleton Regional Hospital, according to the Associated Press.
Police took Rodney Hill, 37, of West Danville, Vt., into custody, and have charged him with second-degree murder. Police say the attack, to which there were several witnesses, appears to be random and that Houghton didn't know Hill. An investigation is still under way. Hill is being held without bail.
With her gentle demeanor and small, slight build, Houghton seemed like the last person you'd expect to brave risk and turmoil by seeking out assignments in the kind of countries where she had lived over the years — places like Bangladesh, Ivory Coast and Colombia — but she looked at every new destination as an adventure, she told The Ark in a previously unpublished 1995 interview.
For decades, Houghton had served as a U.S. counselor to local businesses, working in the diplomatic corps under the U.S. Commerce Department.
"The challenge is the changing commercial environments," Houghton said. "There's a tremendous environmental adjustment to each place. It's almost a new job."
She enjoyed herself even when she was traveling in convoys of armored cars and bodyguards in Bogota, after the undercarriages had been scanned for car bombs.
She first made Marin her base in the 1970s. She owned a house in Lyford Cove, joined the Christian Science Church and taught Sunday school. Her work on five continents — North America, Africa, Asia, South America and Europe — kept her away from her home most of the year.
When she retired, Houghton sold her Tiburon house and moved to eastern Novato. She loved choral music and was a member and generous supporter of SingersMarin, said Jan Pedersen-Schiff, the founder and artistic director of its parent organization, Choral Singers of Marin.
Born and raised in Reno, Nev., to bookish, cerebral parents who were from New England, Houghton attended White Mountain, an Episcopal college prep school, where she also competed in ski racing.
She began her career with a bachelor's in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley. While an undergraduate, she spent her junior year abroad at Ludwig Maximillian University of Munich. She joined the Peace Corps and went to Nepal, living in a small village on a mountain ridge, two days from the nearest meadow big enough to land a DC-3 prop plane.
"I was already interested in language as culture," she said. "Every new language is a new view of world."
Houghton did not characterize herself as someone who picks up languages easily, but at the time of her interview, she spoke English, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Nepali and Bengali and reportedly picked up another handful in the years following the interview.
After the Peace Corps, she spent a year at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst Mozarteum — a school of music and dramatic arts — in Salzburg, Austria, studying the pipe organ and sacred music.
She then was accepted in the doctoral program in theoretical linguistics at Stanford University, where her language emphasis was Chinese. She earned her master's degree in the process. Her doctoral dissertation took her to East Pakistan on a fellowship from the Ford Foundation.
"East Pakistan became Bangladesh while I was there," said Houghton. "I arrived after the biggest cyclone and tidal wave ever. More than 350,000 were killed. I stayed until late March and then was evacuated after tensions rose and war broke out in an autonomy movement by the Bengalis."
Her in-country project leader was killed in a mass slaughter of intellectuals, and she returned to the U.S. and switched to a new dissertation topic on the relationship between language and music.
She took a job in public affairs with DuPont while working on her dissertation evenings and weekends over the next decade, and she moved to Tiburon in 1975 when she jumped to Bank of America corporate headquarters in San Francisco. She then moved into the world of high finance with a stint at Bank of America International in New York.
A customer alerted her that the U.S. Foreign Service was starting a new branch called the Foreign Commercial Service. Her Ph.D. finally completed and a solid business background under her belt, she obtained a top security clearance and became a commercial counselor in the diplomatic corps.
Houghton went to Beijing, which she described as "very grim" in those days.
"It was not hospitable," she said. "It was Marxist and forbidding.
"We were never in physical danger in China because of the vice-grip hold of government over the people," she said. "There was little or no crime. But you could not talk freely. Apartments are bugged. Phones are tapped. We assumed cars were bugged. Mail was secure if it came in diplomatic pouch and business people would have to fly to Hong Kong (because the government) would be listening in otherwise.
"I was there just as they were beginning to throw off shackles and link up economically with the rest of the world," she said.
Houghton always got a chance to bid on new posts.
"I always seem to be in places where things are happening," she said.
She was in West Germany leading up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. She traveled to Hungary and Czechoslovakia "when the demise of communism was permeating the air."
Then she was on to Hong Kong, Ivory Coast and Bogota.
"When I said I wanted to go to the Ivory Coast, my colleagues thought I was crazy," she said. "But it was tailor-made for me, and the different culture was appealing: new sights, smells, sounds, music, literature, language. I wanted to be somewhere where I could use French every day."
In Africa — she went to half the countries on that continent — she learned to fly after being captivated by "West with the Night" and other Beryl Markham memoirs.
Last week, White Mountain School posted a tribute to Houghton on its website.
"She will long be remembered for her kindness, love of music, keen intellect and adventurous spirit," Head of School Tim Breen said.
In recent months, he said, Houghton, had expanded her support of the music program. Her leadership support was instrumental in the school's decision to build a new arts center, housing classroom space for growing programs in the visual arts, music and dance, he said. The center, which Breen indicated will be named after Houghton, is scheduled to open next January.
Houghton also volunteered for Angel Flight, a nonprofit organization that provides air transportation and supplies for those in medical need and for Lighthawk, which provides flight transportation for conservation organizations. She had been a member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, since 1996.