Times & Seasons friend and guest blogger Sam Brown has shared with us the obituary of his wife, eminent Latter-day Saint historian Kate Holbrook. We are honored to remember Kate’s contributions to LDS women’s history as co-editor of, among other volumes, At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-Day Saint Women, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-Day Saint Women’s History, and Every Needful Thing: Essays on the Life of the Mind and the Heart. Kate is remembered also for bridge-building between academic and civic communities, and for fostering rich social connections in the field of Mormon history. Finally, she is remembered as a gentle genius in the kitchen, a soul with a rare gift for friendship, and a radiant wife to Sam and mother to her three daughters.
Here is Kate’s description of the heaven-on-earth she spent her life building:
There is a pasture I love which I visit every summer. Horses and cows graze there. The sky, mountains, meadow, trees, and streams are beautiful. The air is clear. The animals have all that they need and they are safe there. To have all of us in a safe and beautiful place where we are known, seen, and cared for—I want to be in that place and I want to help others to find it.
We weep and rejoice that she has found safe pasture.
Kate Holbrook (born January 13, 1972) died August 20, 2022, her mortal life ended by a
rare cancer of the eye that threatened for a decade before taking her from us over the
course of the last year. We are utterly bereft, and we are also filled with the joy of her
existence. Kate was born in Santa Barbara, California, in the desperate confusion of the
early 1970s, to Kathleen Stewart and Robert Holbrook. Kate was raised by her mother
and her grandmother, Belle Fillmore Stewart, in Provo, Utah. After serving a Church
mission to Samara Russia and graduating from Brigham Young University, she moved
to Boston because she’d loved a rainy afternoon spent there when she was 13. There
she worked at Boston University, graduated from Harvard Divinity School with a Master
of Theological Studies, and began a doctorate in Religious Studies at Boston University.
She also met and married Sam Brown. In their middle 30s they realized that they were
at heart mountain people and returned to Utah. They are the proud parents of three
wonderful children: Amelia, Lucia, and Persephone Holbrook-Brown. In Utah, Kate
completed her PhD (remotely) and started her career as an historian of Latter-day Saint
women, employed by the Church History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. She edited and/or wrote many books, articles, and other expressions
of her careful thought and warm caring. She paid special attention in her scholarship to
the relationships between food and religious community. Kate lived with abiding passion
and care. She read voraciously and with great sympathy. In the last year of her mortal
course, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of visiting Kenya, driven by her childhood reading
of Out of Africa. Her entire being sparkled with the possibilities of literature, including the
stories of East Africa and Karen Blixen.
Kate loved Jesus with her whole heart. There wasn’t a part of her that didn’t breathe
God and Gospel. She was honored to lead teams to tell the story of the Latter-day
Saints to outsiders and the stories of women to her fellow Saints. As she contemplated
her passage from mortality with great sadness, it was not because she lacked
confidence in the reality of an afterlife. Instead, she mourned her physical absence from
the mortal lives of her beloveds. She held in her hands and her heart both the certainty
that death is not the end of us and the terrible tragedy of mortality cut short.
Her father and her grandmother (beside countless generations of the ancestors she
honored with her scholarly work) preceded her in death. The others remain, hallowed by
her memory and her abiding presence. Kate loved flowers the way she loved food,
viscerally. However, she asks that instead of giving flowers, well-intended friends
donate to the Kate Holbrook Endowed Scholarship Fund at BYU for primary caregivers
of young children pursuing graduate work in the humanities:
Oh my goodness.
Tragic loss of one of the most important historians of our time.
This is such sad news. I have deeply appreciated the work Kate has done, both in the published works she worked on and in her public discourse about Church History. I particularly remember her at the Face-to-Face that was done in Nauvoo when Saints 1 came out (and even have shared some of what she said there in subsequent discussions). I never knew her in person, but I am grateful for what I learned from her.
I’ve only known Sr Holbrook through hearing her interviewed with her husband on the All In podcast. She sounds like a wonderful person. Commiserations to the family – it must be a very difficult time for them all.
I’ve been searching for a place for days, to comment, share with others who seem to have been influenced, touched, strengthened, renewed, by this profoundly influential woman. Thank you to God, for her, her life, spirit, her faith and where the Lord was able to take her talents because of it. Thank you to her family for supporting her as she supported you so that the rest of us could benefit too.
Katherine, thanks for sharing here. I was indeed influenced, touched, strengthened and renewed by Kate’s work and life. Like you, I’m grateful to her cherished inner circle of friends and family who strengthened her so that she could extend her influence so broadly. I appreciate your post.