Rick Jewett, Kathi Goertzen’s widower, cherishes memories
Nine months since the death of beloved local news anchor Kathi Goertzen, her husband, Rick Jewett, talks about life without her, raising their daughters and the foundation he started in her honor.
Seattle Times columnist
It was the bottom of the seventh. Two on, two outs in a loser-go-home game between Ballard and Inglemoor high schools in the KingCo softball playoffs.
As Andrea Jewett stepped up to bat, the weight of a win on her shoulders, her father, Rick Jewett, stepped back from his spot on the sidelines and closed his eyes.
“If you can help her out,” he prayed to his late wife, Kathi Goertzen. “Be with her ...”
“The next pitch, Andrea hit it over the fence,” Jewett recalled the other day. “The team mobbed her, I was crying ...”
For joy, yes. But also because Goertzen, the longtime and well-loved co-anchor for Seattle’s KOMO-TV news, wasn’t there to see it.
She died last Aug. 13 at 54 after a long and public fight with meningioma, a tumor that grows on the brainstem. Goertzen had repeated surgeries to remove recurring tumors over the last several years, before eventually dying of pneumonia.
Now, as the anniversary of her death approaches, Jewett sat to talk about the days that have passed since, and how he and his two daughters have managed to carry on.
“As much as you’d think I was prepared for this, it was pretty shocking,” he said of Goertzen’s death. “We didn’t talk about what we were going to do when she was gone. We never left the positive realm.”
Jewett, 54, a television marketing specialist, has been working hard to stay in that realm while managing the duties of a single father. Cooking, cleaning, guiding his daughters through life, and being the face of the family — a role he was happy to let Goertzen have for so long.
Her death forced him to the front, where he received condolences not only from friends and colleagues, but Goertzen’s fans. She had been so public with the impact of the tumors — the way half of her face had dropped, her struggles to speak and walk — that he felt obliged to deal with her loss in the same way.
“I wanted to crawl under a rock,” he said of the days after Goertzen’s death. “I didn’t want to be interviewed. But the way Kathi was always up front and honest ... the last thing she wanted to do was show her face.”
He stopped for a moment, waited for whatever memory to pass, and continued.
“I have a choice,” Jewett said. “I can be sad or happy. Sometimes it’s harder to make the choice, but I choose to be happy.
“That’s what Kathi would do. That’s what she would want me to be.”
He doesn’t remember the exact moment he met her, but recalled that “She was the big-time anchor and I was the photographer running around the newsroom.
“And she was incredible,” he said. “She was very approachable and very kind to everybody.”
They didn’t work together much because, as an anchor, Goertzen wasn’t reporting in the field.
But then in 1989, the station teamed them up and sent them to cover the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“That’s where we really met and that’s where we got to know each other, and that’s where we became friends,” Jewett said, then answered the next question before it was asked.
“She was still married at the time,” Jewett said. “There was nothing going on.”
Goertzen got divorced a few years later, and then they started dating. They were married in Sun Valley in August 1994.
Another memory rushes in: “She went into a coma on our anniversary last year,” Jewett said. “The last thing she said to me, she scribbled on a piece of paper somewhere, that she had made reservations at the Purple Café downtown.”
The hardest part, he said, is seeing his daughters go on without their mother.
But then he recalled being in Goertzen’s hospital room as she faded away, and holding onto her with one arm, his girls in the other, and looking up at her parents.
“The only thing that would be worse is if it was one of my kids,” he said.
The girls are, for the record, doing well.
Alexa Jarvis, Goertzen’s daughter by her first marriage, is now 23 and a singer with the Seattle Opera. She sang in the chorus of “Turandot” and “La Bohème,” and is part of the “Our Earth” program, which brings opera into schools.
In July, Alexa will head to Italy with a Canadian opera company to sing for six weeks.
Andrea, 18, is about to graduate from the Seattle Academy of Arts and Sciences (but plays softball for Ballard High), and has been working for Seattle rapper Macklemore as part of her senior project. She is headed to Claremont McKenna College in California in the fall.
Jewett is starting to turn more attention to the Kathi Goertzen Foundation.
“We’re finding out who we are and what we can do,” he said, “and trying to inspire people with brain tumors to have hope.”
On June 29, glassybaby, maker of votive candle holders, will hold a Seconds Sale at its Madrona studio, and donate 10 percent of the profits to the Kathi Goertzen Foundation.
Two weeks later will come the first anniversary of Goertzen’s death.
“I don’t stress over it. I just can’t,” Jewett said. “I miss her love, her humor, her generosity and her balance. We dealt with these brain tumors for 14 years of our 18-year marriage, and I cherish every moment I was lucky enough to have with her.
“We had hope, and we never wavered from that hope and positive attitude that Kathi carried on her back,” he continued. “We were scared but we were together. Now, I move forward with her voice in my ear and her love in my heart. I love this girl so much.”
In September, Jewett and the girls will attend the dedication of a new communications hall named for Goertzen on the campus of her beloved alma mater, Washington State University.
Nicole Brodeur: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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