Kate Dickstein — a longtime Westporter, beloved special education teacher and talented writing instructor — died Thursday in Mill Valley, California. She was 86.
Born in Wurzburg, Germany, Kate Lauber emigrated with her parents in 1936. They settled in the Bronx, not far from the original Yankee Stadium. Fluent in German and English, and as a Holocaust refugee raised by parents from a long line of German Jewish and Lutheran families, her life reference points spanned time, eras, cultures and long distances.
With a precocious and open mind, Kate excelled in school. She was active in many human rights initiatives, and established deep and meaningful lifelong friendships with people from all walks and phases of her life.
Kate earned an undergraduate degree from City College of New York, and a master’s degree in special education from Fairfield University. She spent more than 5 decades as a teacher, first at Weston Elementary School, then Coleytown Middle School, and finally at Staples High School.
She was known and highly regarded for effectively encouraging academic achievement among youngsters with different learning styles. Kate touched and lifted countless students, in a variety of learning environments. Her students adored her for her personal attention, care and compassion, and adherence to strict standards. She stayed in touch with many as they became adults and celebrated their accomplishments as though they were her extended family.
She also taught her colleagues. She was instrumental in the development of an “Understanding Disabilities” program, which put educators in special education students’ shoes. She was a mentor to many special education teachers of all ages.
Kate was a talented artist, a lover of theater, opera, and jazz, classical and rock music, and an enthusiastic outdoorswoman. She particularly loved the north coast of Maine, where she spent many summers with her family and close friends, hiking, partying, making new friends and delighting in the magic of New England summers.
Kate was an avid reader. She had a playful sense of humor, and a ready laugh. She rejoiced in and worked hard to maintain special relationships with her childhood friends. Their families became important, joyful parts of her and her beloved husband Howard’s lives, and then of her own children’s sphere of friends.
As a daughter she was fiercely protective and supportive of her immigrant parents, who depended on her to help them navigate their new and unfamiliar world.
As a devoted wife of 65 years Kate was Howard’s greatest friend, supporter, protector and constructive critic.
As a mother Kate was loving and doting, yet laissez faire in the most positive sense. She allowed her children space and time to be independent, and pursue their passions.
As a grandmother Kate took great pleasure in developing unique and deep connections with each of her five grandchildren. She listened to, coached and tutored them, showered them with unconditional love and affection, and maintained a perfect record of noting and celebrating their birthdays.
Kate wrote many short stories telling of her childhood memories and family history. She juxtaposed perspectives from the “old and new worlds.” Her experiences as an ever-assimilating U.S. citizen shaped her world view and infused her writing. Her family’s challenging journey gave her great empathy for all who she deemed persecuted by society.
She channeled and acted on that empathy in her professional and personal lives. She collaborated with local and national civil rights leaders in an effort to build bridges and develop understanding among disparate racial and socioeconomic groups, while always remaining true to her core values and modeling behaviors that positively influenced her family and friends.
There is much more to say, and her many admirers will say it in the months and years to come. Kate, and her rich and rewarding life will be forever remembered and treasured by all who knew her.
Kate is survived by her sons Peter and wife Lisa of San Francisco, California; Stephen and wife Natalie of Delray Beach, Florida; daughter Jane and husband Gordon of Mill Valley, California; her five adoring grandchildren Jordan, Anna, Jackson, Tess and Miller; her sister Irene and husband Chris, and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
At her and her family’s request, Kate’s remembrance and life celebration service will be private. Contributions in Kate’s name may be made to Hospice by the Bay, 17 E. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, Larkspur, CA 94939 (hospicebythebay.org).