Obituary: Kathy Lawrence, 1948-2023 | Obituaries | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Obituary: Kathy Lawrence, 1948-2023 

Burlington woman's diverse career enriched the lives of Burlington citizens, especially youth

Published July 10, 2023 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated July 10, 2023 at 3:33 p.m.

click to enlarge Kathy Lawrence - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Kathy Lawrence
Kathleen “Kathy” M. Lawrence passed away peacefully, surrounded by her six children on May 27, 2023, after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. Beloved parent, grandparent, friend, community leader, supporter of the arts and style maven, Kathy was a Burlington icon.

Kathy was born in Teaneck, N.J., on October 2, 1948, to Kathleen and Donald Tangney. Her dry, New York humor and Irish generosity were among the many gifts she inherited from her stellar parents.

Kathy had an eye for design and studied fashion journalism at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She was a young woman of the 1960s and spent her time in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village, soaking up literature, poetry, music, painting, philosophy and political activism.

During this time, she met her former husband, Michael Lawrence, on the boardwalk at the Jersey shore. They moved to Burlington in 1971, bought a house and raised their six children. Kathy became a proud and steadfast Vermonter. She was a lover of the land and community and remained in the same house on South Willard Street until her passing.

Kathy’s home embodied what she loved: the incredible happy chaos of six kids plus friends. And although it was a house of many people, she was always able to create a sense of calm. Her kind presence and voice set the tone. The house was imbued with a unique spirit, a paradox of safe coziness and freedom that Kathy so magically orchestrated. She rejected TV but equipped her family with books, records and art from various genres and eras.

Kathy loved and celebrated all holidays. Each Christmas, after creating a magical day for her children, she would host a big open house. Everyone was welcome. The house became filled with friends, music and enchilada casserole for all. The parties became legendary and were particularly important to those who otherwise did not enjoy the holiday.

Kathy’s greatest joy was being a mother and grandmother. Her kids remember her running up and down the steep stairs of their old house, while carrying babies and baskets of laundry. Her grandkids remember her sitting with them for hours, immersed in imaginative play. She had a progressive approach to child rearing and respected every child’s distinct and innate nature. She had a special relationship with each of her own children, making them feel exceedingly loved, important and unique. She raised them to be self-reliant and independent thinkers. Kathy was vital and tireless, a tenacious doer. After her kids were in bed, she continued working, drawing pictures on lunch bags and waxing wood floors. She never drove and could be seen busily walking to and from town in her cool and impeccable style, always with the sense she was up to something interesting, and always having time for a smile, a hello and to compliment a friend or stranger.

Kathy had a diverse and impactful career, which enriched the lives of Burlington citizens, especially the youth. In the 1980s, she became arts coordinator for the newly formed Mayor’s Youth Office. She worked to empower young people with their own newspaper, The Queen City Special, local theater productions, the hugely successful Battle of the Bands and, most importantly, 242 Main, a teen center, which ran for 30 years.

The role of 242 Main in the lives of many Burlington youth and Kathy’s influence on the teen center, cannot be overstated. Opening in 1986, 242 was a safe place where kids could express themselves. Kathy helped guide kids according to their talents, such as painting the center’s murals, writing and playing live music and performance art. Kathy promoted justice and presided over a space filled with creativity. She brought in diverse culture from out of town, such as break-dancers from the Bronx and hard-core bands from California. In the end, 242 became the longest-running, substance-free, all-ages, music venue in the country, putting Burlington’s kids and young musicians in the history books.

Kathy was known for being supportive, positive and trusting and for making people feel welcomed and heard. Burlington youth held Kathy in high regard, because they knew she had their back. Many of the folks who spent time at the teen center in their youth are now outstanding contributors to our community. Kathy’s kindness and honesty set a very high standard; her impact will likely be felt for generations.

In the 1990s, Kathy decided to indulge her passion for design and started a family business. She and her daughter opened Common Threads clothing store on the Burlington waterfront. Kathy operated Common Threads for 25 years. She understood her clients personal styles and outfitted them with pieces that made them feel confident about themselves. The storefront was part boutique and part salon, where loyal friends and customers always felt free to share their innermost feelings.

Kathy is preceded in death by her parents and her brothers, Matthew and James Tangney. Kathy is survived by two siblings, Ellen and Don; her six children, Johanna, Jonah, Emily, Matthew, Amanda and Benjamin; and her seven grandchildren.

The Lawrence family is deeply saddened to announce her passing. We feel the blessings of having enjoyed such a special person. Her spirit will continue to guide us towards joy. She is our hero forever.

A memorial to celebrate her life is planned for next May.

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