LightHawk Remembers Kitty Houghton

Jonathan Milne and Bev Gabe of non-profit volunteer pilot organization LightHawk remembered alumna, trustee, and friend Kitty Houghton at the dedication of the Catherine Houghton Arts Center this weekend.
by Jonathan Milne and Bev Gabe

Kitty was a volunteer pilot for LightHawk where she donated flights that helped conservation groups protect land, water and wildlife. In California, she did a handful of flights along the coast to support marine protected areas. Some enabled citizen scientists to monitor protected zones, other flights enabled local media to spread the word about these underwater parks.

Her passengers always commented on how pleasant she made the flight, how comfortable they felt with her. She was wonderful to work with – always interested in the issue and wanting to know more.

One flight we had to cancel because of a pesky marine fog layer, but she still flew out to meet the passengers just in case it happened to lift.

We knew Kitty for only a year and a half, but in that time, she made a tremendous impression on everyone who was lucky enough to spend time with her. We’d like to share with you today, some of the ways we remember Kitty. 

Our colleague Emilie said:
I think she touched us all, even if we only met briefly. For myself, I had the pleasure of hiking with her in Rocky Mountain Park during our annual meeting. I became an instant Kitty fan and we kept in touch. She was so engaged with LightHawk and our little community. I think we were a perfect match for so many of her passions. And I’m so grateful that we had a chance to know her.

A fellow pilot, Chris Boyer remembers:
I had the immense pleasure of spending a week with Kitty in January 2012, flying an aircraft down to Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to help with a flamingo survey.  Kitty was one of the most careful and meticulous pilots I’ve ever worked with, taking detailed notes in tiny script about the nuances of the unfamiliar plane, or the procedures for bringing aircraft across national borders.  

Kitty had that extremely admirable quality of being completely and authentically engrossed in whatever you happened to be telling her at the moment–no matter how trivial.  She seemed to have an unlimited capacity to be interested and enthusiastic about everything.

Pilot Will Worthington also shared that journey down to Mexico with Kitty and Chris and he wrote:

It is difficult to capture in words the personality of this remarkable person, for she was involved in so many diverse interests, was so personable, and was so very talented. She took great delight in every aspect of this adventure and was most eager to see and learn more. 

I asked her to find a good refueling stop in west Texas for the ferry flight to Yucatan, and soon she reported with great enthusiasm that our stop should be in Pecos where the gas is cheap and homemade burritos are complimentary.  And so the trip continued with Kitty always upbeat and undaunted by bad weather or cranky immigration officials. 

Kitty absolutely loved the challenge of flying the big Cessna 206 airplane. One indelible memory I have of Kitty is her landing the plane in Vera Cruz, in poor weather, with a strong gusting cross wind and with a big smile on her face.

When we flew missions along the north coast to find flamingos, we were accompanied by perhaps the world’s foremost flamingo expert, Dr. Xiomara Aguilera. Any questions I had about Kitty’s linguistic skills were answered quickly as I found her and Xiomara engaged in an animated conversation in Spanish about planes, flamingos, and assorted other subjects. Kitty had made another friend. 

It was a singular honor to have known Kitty if only for a short time, but in that time I joined many others who were so impressed that so many wonderful attributes could be bundled up in such a slight person with such a great zest for life.

Speaking for those of us at LightHawk who were fortunate to know Kitty, we knew that she was an extraordinary person. She had a doctorate from Stanford. She served in the Peace Corps. She spoke 14 languages, and spent her career with the Foreign Service in posts all over the world.

Kitty radiated a zest for life, and we miss her tremendously. But, we will always remember her in her LightHawk hat and her trademark smile looking out from the cockpit scanning the horizon.

Leave a Reply