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In our midst … Kathleen Anne Garlington, homeless person

"There but for the grace of God go I." - John Bradford

Photo: Ty Hardaway

Kathleen Garlington, the homeless woman who had been seen in and around Kentlands for some weeks, was found dead in the stairwell of a building on the 400 block of Main St. on Monday, March 16, at 6:19 PM when police officers responded to a call. She was 61 years old.

The cause of her death is under investigation, but there is no evidence to support foul play, and investigators believe that she died of natural causes.

Kathleen, originally from Michigan, was the daughter of William and Shirley Garlington and sister to Joseph Garlington, Therese Garlington Hyde, Mary Garlington Sartori, and Monica Garlington. A serious illness left her paralyzed for some part of her life, and it appears that she lived in Michigan with her parents while recovering. She moved to Leesburg, only a few blocks from her brother, in 2012 and lived there until 2014.

Photo: Jill Kowitz

Kathleen had become somewhat a fixture in our community. She was seen patronizing Starbucks and Panera Bread, walking near the library, along Hart Road, and approaching the Mormon Church. A number of Kentlands citizens reported meeting her. Some anecdotes recorded on speak of a person who was friendly, outgoing, educated and articulate; a person fond of dogs who got on well with peoples’ pets. Others described different interactions with her.

Kathleen circa 2012; photo: Kathleen Garlington

Kathleen’s Internet presence tells us that she started playing the piano when she was 12 years old. She majored in Piano Performance at Catholic University, transferred to George Washington (GW) University to study with Ylda Novik, and graduated from GW in 1980. She apparently worked as a pianist accompanying singers and choral groups during the 30 years of her life that are opaque to Internet search efforts.

She hoped to restart her musical efforts after moving to the National Capitol area in 2012 and may, or may not, have continued to perform while homeless. Homelessness, “living on the street” is, in itself, a serious impediment to many forms of employment because of the challenge it presents to even the simplest types of personal care and hygiene.

Kathleen’s self-reported, and very fragmented, notes on social media indicate that she was evicted from her last home in 2014, apparently as the result of some dispute. A 2014 Federal Reserve study of 4,000 adults showed that 62% of Americans could not meet an unexpected or emergency expense of “$400 without selling something or borrowing money,” so a financial emergency may have led to Kathleen’s situation.

Some people and organizations tried to help her. The gift of a bit of food at Starbucks from a single individual and a sister’s visit are mentioned. Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Parish was working with the City of Gaithersburg to find housing through a Montgomery County Coalition for Homelessness program called Keys First. Neither individuals nor the government can force a person to accept any help or do anything or go anywhere, such as a shelter, if the person does not wish to do so, however.

Kathleen lived in our midst for only a few months, but in that time she offered all of us some insight into the challenges many of our fellow humans face and an opportunity to examine our own reactions to those less fortunate than ourselves. Fair winds and following seas, Kathleen.

There will be a Funeral Mass in the Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Parish chapel where Kathleen “used to hang out” on Monday, April 3 at 11 AM. All are welcome. Kathleen’s obituary is on the Simplicity Cremation and Funeral Services website

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