Kathleen “Kitty” Starling

How do you put into words the incredible impact, and influence, that someone has had on your life?

For us, that someone was Kathleen “Kitty” Hartzog Starling, our wife, mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. It’s an impossible task to convey all that she was to each of us and, though our takeaways varied, depending on our personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and interests, the loss we all feel is vast and deeply shared.

She was funny, self-deprecating, and incredibly creative. She was a talented, award-winning ceramist and a needlepoint expert, who made beautiful Christmas stockings for as many of her grandchildren as she could. She was a thoughtful poet and writer. She was the best garage sale curator in the history of the universe and was always on the hunt for good bargains, whether they were needed or not. She was the least lazy person we’ve ever known and a resourceful, powerful woman…a definite force to be reckoned with, and the fiercest defender of her family.


A lover of her husband, Warren, and their wild and crazy family. Their love story spanned almost 74 years, seventy-two of those as a married couple, and was enduring to her last breath and beyond. They began dating in 1948; when she was fifteen, and they married on July 29th, 1950. Together, they raised four children (Howard, Sandra, Susan, and Stacy), had twelve grandchildren, and eighteen great-grandchildren, to date.

A lover of food and the most incredible cook of all things edible, including traditional Southern and authentic Chinese. She studied authentic Chinese cooking with Lily Tang, in Orlando, and then gave Chinese cooking lessons in our home’s kitchen, while living in Satellite Beach in the late sixties and early seventies. Her cooking was so renowned, that she held quite a few Chinese dinners as fundraisers for Holmes Regional Medical Center, where she also volunteered as a Pink Lady. While conducting food demonstrations in the Burdines’ kitchen department in Ft. Lauderdale, in the late seventies, she was on the cusp of being an instructional chef for a televised cooking show but, had to decline the offer because we were moving. She would have easily become the Julia Childs/Rachel Ray of that era. However, Mom’s claim to family food fame was her always-requested-never-a-disappointment deviled eggs! They were a must at every family gathering, which always created a “supply and demand” issue; the demand always surpassed the supply…even when she’d make “extra” and hide them in the outside refrigerator!!

A lover of, and friend to, all living creatures (except snakes, those could burn in Hell!)!! Mom was the Snow White to Dad’s Grumpy, she loved her dogs (Tiki and Kricket); one duck (Tina); forty-two generations of Sandhill Cranes (forever known as Grangers); raccoons, squirrels (she called them all Augie, after the first rescue); flying squirrels (also all called Rockie, after the first) who loved to burrow down into the cup of her bra and peek out like Gilroy; countless fish; a stinky ferret named Spike; and several cockatiels, lovebirds, finches, and a Quaker parrot named Alure. She even bought day-old bread and took doggie bags home from family functions to feed all the wild critters in her yard that, no doubt, will miss her almost as much as we will.

A lover of Alure’s rescue story (explained here via modifications, with just a few embellishments, on first Dad’s version of the story and then Mom’s addition to his.). Mom loved cruising down Shingle Creek, hunting for abandoned lures (in order to protect birds from getting tangled up in the severed, and forgotten, fishing lines caught up in the tree branches); Dad was always happy to oblige! This was an adventure they shared with their grandchildren and anyone else that was fortunate enough to be invited to tag along. On one such excursion, Mom spotted a shiny lure! CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! As they worked to free the lure, Dad kept hearing squawking but couldn’t see anything. When they began to back out into the creek, Dad noticed a green bird flying toward them and it landed on the boat’s canopy. It was skittish and flew back up into the tree. They watched the bird for a little while and pulled in closer. Mom started talking to it and held her finger up as a perch. The bird actually looked like it wanted to come down and started slowly lowering itself from one limb to another; it was obvious that this was somebody’s pet, which had struck out into the wilds and couldn’t find its way back home. Dad reached up with the tree saw to no avail. He then tried climbing up on the boat fence, extending a bass net, but the bird was still not having it. Out of sheer desperation, Mom held the minnow net on one side of the limb and Dad put the bass net over it on the other and they managed to capture the bird. Of course, the bird got tangled in the nets, but they finally got it, more or less, free and into the bait bucket with the nets covering it for the ride across the lake and to its new home. Once Alure (aka the bird) was home and safely in her garage-sale-bargain cage (newly acquired, that very day), it was noticeably clear that she was glad to have her head scratched by all. She especially loved sitting on her shoulders to snuggle and was happy to sit on her perch with one foot and hold on to your finger with the other. Turns out, Mom’s chosen name for her was apropos since she had been plucked from the tree branches just as they did for all their other fishing lures. So, what did they get out of the tree? A LURE…Dad protested, Alure was game for whatever…so, Alure she became. Dad’s moral to the story: IF YOU BUY A BIRDCAGE, THAT YOU DON’T NEED, A BIRD WILL APPEAR…OUT OF NOWHERE…TO LIVE IN IT!!!!!!

A lover of working in the garden and landscaping her yard, and everyone else’s. She loved to share her plantings with everyone, from mondo grass to Key Lime trees. There are more than a handful of authentic Key Lime trees in and around Central Florida thanks to her green thumb! She also had an unusual LOVE to head outside to pull weeds and gather up the felled Spanish moss.

A lover of every holiday, and we do mean EVERY holiday, which were always elaborately celebrated! Even made-up ones, like Teddy Ruxpin’s birthday, whose party was held every year for all the grandkids to attend. With one of the biggest family holidays of the year, and Mom’s desire to make sure that we always had a bigger…longer-lasting…more fun Christmas than anyone else around; her knack for colossal gift-giving eventually took on a life of its own! Her skills at being a thrifty shopper turned into giant boxes filled with a treasure trove of incredibly unique items for every one of us. The grandkids lovingly referred to these gift boxes as “Grandmommy boxes!” Always filled with thoughtful, unique, and practical items, the most treasured item in everyone’s gift box, though intangible, was the tender loving care that simply oozed from each box, with the pure love that Mom had for her family. Mom would want you to read more here for a good laugh on her grandkid’s perspective. Grandmommy’s Gifts, When I’m Right, I’m Right. and Grandmommy’s Gifts.

A HUGE lover of teddy bears, collecting hundreds, if not thousands, over the years. She shared them with everyone…the mail carrier, the trash collectors, cashiers at stores, and even dropping them off, on a regular basis, at the Ronald McDonald House in Orlando.

A lover of Charlie and the story of his plate…just from a flea market find in Webster (one of her favorite places to hunt for treasures), which tugged at her momma’s heart so, that she simply couldn’t leave the precious plate behind! Read about this serendipitous conversion of events, as told by our mother in, Guideposts August 2004, Volume LIX, Issue 6, Charlie’s Plate by Kathleen H. Starling, included in chapter 9 of this hardcover collection of short stories published by Guideposts Magazine and available via Amazon, His Mysterious Ways: More Than Coincidence, and this article from the Orlando Sentinel COMING FULL CIRCLE.

Honestly, a lover of so very much more…

We will miss your hugs, your endless stories, talking to you on the phone for hours at a time but, most of all, we will miss your smile, the sound of your laugh, and hearing you say, “I love you!”!

You were an INCREDIBLE human being.

You were BELOVED by all those you met.

You were the BEST matriarch to the Starling Clan.

You will always be LOVED.

You will NEVER be forgotten.

Sweetheart, Mom, Grandmommy, Grammy, GMa, GG…so many monikers, yet all representing the same loving heart. THANK YOU for your love, patience, resilience, laughs, and passion for life and your family. You, now and forever, will be deeply missed.