Katherine Sheriff, Trinity '01, died June 28 when a porch collapsed at a Chicago party, killing 13 people. She was 23.
Sheriff was attending a party in Chicago's affluent Lincoln Park neighborhood when the floor dropped out of a third-story porch around 12:30 a.m. She and 12 other individuals--all between the ages of 19 and 30--were killed in the accident. Authorities said at least 57 others were injured, some critically.
At the time of the accident, Sheriff was living in Chicago, where she worked as director of marketing at Lee Lumber Company.
Sheriff and a number of other people had gathered in two apartments Saturday to catch up with old high school and college friends. Authorities said as many as 50 people may have been crammed onto the third-story porch before it collapsed and quickly trapped a number of people on the porches directly below in a pile of debris.
A handful of other recent Duke graduates survived the accident.
While at Duke, Sheriff earned a bachelor of arts degree with a major in political science. She spent her junior fall studying in Rome, then returned to become the senior pledge trainer in the 2000-2001 academic year for her sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma.
Two memorial scholarship funds have been established in Sheriff's honor--one by Sheriff's family and the other by Kappa Kappa Gamma. Donations to the family's fund may be sent to Mercyhurst Preparatory School, 538 E. Grandview Blvd., Erie, PA 16504. Donations to the sorority?s fund may be sent to Kappa Kappa Gamma Foundation (behalf of Katie Sheriff) P.O. Box 38, Columbus, Ohio 43216-0038.
- by Cindy Yee, The Chronicle
Friends and family's reflections:
When I got a phone call from somebody asking me to come out to a party my freshman year, I would ask, "Well, who's there?" And if Katie Sherriff was mentioned in any context, I would scramble out to my car no matter what state of dress I was in because I knew I would regret it if I missed even a second of her Oscar-worthy sense of humor. When I think of the most defining moments of the brief time I spent as a sister in Kappa Kappa Gamma, they are punctuated with rolling-on-the-floor (quite literally) moments of joyful hilarity sparkling with Katie's brilliant social wit. I have never known another person with quite the same ability to take even the dullest situation and turn it into a comedy. Katie, you made the fun contagious, and I hope that your infectious spirit remains always in the hearts of everyone it has touched.
- Jules Dudas, member KKG, Spring 2001
Katie Sheriff loved Duke in the way it was meant to be loved. She worked hard and she played hard, and she brought a life and vitality to every room she entered, be it one of her Poly. Sci. classes or the Hideaway.
Her best friends always called her the "Beating Heart of Duke University" because no one was more abreast of the gossip or campus wide goings-on than our "Reefer." She and I lived together for all four years of college, and in all honesty, I think upon our first meeting, we were both a little nervous. After all, we were to be living in a tiny triple, Pegram 216. Soon I came to love the close quarters, as being in the presence of the whirlwind that was Katie Sheriff filled my life with excitement. She was delighted with life, the first at every Kappa mixer with the best costume, and the last one to be dragged out of George's Garage.
Everyone who knew her would agree, Katie always got her way, but with her charm and mischievious smile, who wouldn't want to follow along? I was her wingman, which typically meant being in the wake of a force to be reckoned with, watching the hearts break and most nights, helping her find her purse.
If anyone reading this remembers the infamous "Wannabomber" - that scandal was all Katie's. Our sophomore year, our triple in Wannamaker 104 became campus wide news on account of a fraternity prank gone awry. I'll never forget going to visit Katie in the ER that night, so incredibly scared that anything could have happened to my best friend. Of course, she was doing well, and laughing at all of us for our tears and our concern... and that's exactly how I picture her now. In heaven, with a cosmo, head thrown back in laughter. Her crazy blond hair blowing in the wind and light dancing in her crystal blue eyes.
Katie, in every good time I have, I'll know it's in part thanks to you, because you taught me how to have fun and always reminded to me fearlessly live life to the fullest. You will always be with me, your friends, your family and Duke.
- Kelly Goldsmith, Trinity '01
Sunday, June 28 at 12:31am the Duke community suffered a great loss as one of its young and vibrant graduates was the victim of a fatal accident in Chicago. In a city with few Duke graduates, we have been lucky to have a tight knit community of friends from Duke. Coming from New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and North Carolina, we've made each other family in this home away from home. Katie Sheriff was an extension of our own families. It has never been more fitting to describe an individual as being "full of life." Katie was just that - animated, beautiful, gregarious, witty, hilarious, charismatic and oh so full of life. We are overcome by grief, sadness and disbelief over the loss of our friend.
Katie loved everything about her Duke experience and was the first in our group of friends to proudly state to any and every stranger we met in Chicago that we are all, in fact, "Duke girls." Katie Sheriff was the sprite in our lives and imagining this city without her is near to impossible. To her family and her sister Ingrid, Trinity '00, we want you to know how much we loved Katie and how she has touched all of our lives in personal and profound ways. We will miss her silly smirk and her boisterous laugh. Last night as we sat together mourning the loss of our friend, we smiled when we saw that Katie had painted the sky her signature color for us - pink.
We miss you, our little pumpkin, Katherine E. Sheriff.
Katie McClay '01
Katherine Menendez '01
Lopa Patel '00
Sima Diane Sistani '01
Kirsten Whitlow '01
She was just like a Fourth of July firecracker. She was so "hot" (pun intended) that we all became warmer and better human beings because of her light. Her personality was like the sun. People young and old, male and female were drawn to her like moths to a flame. Her smile and laughter were infectuous and all of us who knew her and loved her will NEVER forget her. The word NEVER has not had a more fervent meaning. But because she was my daughter, my beautiful baby girl, my ninita pequenita, the hole she has left in my heart and the void she has left in my life is indescribably huge. We will all need each other to get through this. She would want us to live, laugh, get married and have babies and continue with earth's business, remembering her beauty, kindness, laughter and profound LOVE OF LIFE, every day. I wonder today how I will make it to tomorrow, but I know somehow, some way, I will. Just look around you. She is everywhere. - Judi Lehrian, mother The girls of 814 Lancaster, Kelly, Katie, Sashie, Buffy, Amy and I, planned to spend the twilight of our lives growing old and crazy together in a mansion in New Orleans. We were united from the first week of freshman year and anticipated being best friends for the rest of our lives. It seems impossibly cruel that Katie Sheriff's life was cut short at such a young age. Despite my sadness, I feel that I am fortunate, because it would have been a tragedy to never know Katie. Many people are never blessed with the kind of good, true, honest and devoted bond of friendship that Katie shared with her close friends. Katie would make you laugh when you wanted to cry, she always greeted you with a hug and she knew when to give you a shove towards trouble, just to make life interesting. We shared so many crazy times, spanning from Paris to Myrtle Beach, S.C. But Katie would make even seemingly banal moments in life full of surprise and promise. Katie would leave little notes on my car when she saw it on campus. Such a stupid little thing, but I think that it is the kind of gesture that speaks volumes about her ability to make people laugh, her wit, her enthusiasm and the abundance of love that she gave so generously to people. Her joy and energy were infectious. - Erin Thayer, Trinity '01 "I am in search of perfection. Because I am werid." - from an e-mail by Katie Sheriff
Katie wasn't weird; she knew what she deserved. She deserved perfection. So I asked: why did she pick me to be her friend? And then I remembered her heating up frozen vegetables and smothering the concoction in spray butter. Perfection? I'd like to think: yes. If she picked the stuff, if she picked me, then it was because it made her life more perfect to have the stuff and to have meâ??her little monkey and pumpkinheadâ??in it. We all fulfilled a role in Katie's story-telling, attention-grabbing quest for perfection; she wouldn't have picked us otherwise. Everyone, remember that when trying to rationalize why you deserved to have such an amazing person in your life. And Katie, know that you will forever be a role in my life, forcing me to strive for perfection, because if you loved me as I love you, then I deserve it too. Hmph. - Nina Flax I loved my little sister with all my heart. Her spirit and energy were infectious; she was always the center of attention. She made friends wherever she went and greeted everyone with a smile. I see her spirit today in the strangest places-in a butterfly, in a daisy, in the sun shining on the river-and I feel peaceful. I know she will forever be as funny, beautiful and carefree as she was with us on Earth just a short time ago. Keep her glowing memory alive in yourselves, in your family and in your friendships and Katie will always smile upon you. - Ingrid Sheriff, Trinity '00
Jim Sheriff's, Law '79, eulogy for his daughter Katie Sheriff
Funeral Mass Service
St. Jude's Church, Erie, Penn.
July 3, 2003
Mornings are the cruelest time... As the sun rises and the unconscious mind wakes into consciousness the hollow and blinding recognition returns that our lives will no longer ever be quite the same. There will be no morning e-mail messages waiting for me at work from Katie telling me of her "most wonderful" marketing idea; or about the latest twist in her good friend's quest to win "Survivor", or more likely; "Dad, there's this fabulous Ferragamo purse on sale at Nordstroms today only, and could I maybe have $100 as a loan to help buy it, please...!"
That you are all gathered here today is proof that our youngest daughter had not only a captivating and magical effect upon her parents and family, but also on those others lucky enough to have come into contact with her. Katie's family and friends; her co-workers; her teachers; every busboy and cook in every restaurant in Italy we went to who even laid eyes on her; recognized something wonderful, beautiful, but probably in the end intangible and impossible to describe and set to words -- about Katie Sheriff. Our hearts go out to all of you gathered here today, who have traveled from all continents and different parts of the globe to be here with Katie, because we know how you, too, are grieving from Katie's death. Thank you all, from the deepest part of our hearts, for coming to pay your respects and to share your stories and fantastic personal memories about Katie with us. We are so moved by your presence and your love for Katie.
I think, in a rare, sane moment, of the John Hausmann poem, "To an Athlete Dying Young": "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying. For this same flower that blooms today, tomorrow will be dying."... Hausmann's message to us, and to the gifted star athlete hero of his poem, is this: We are all mortal. Life may be unfairly cut short, even for the fastest, the best and the brightest of us. Make the absolute most of your precious time among us, and make the most of yourself and your relationships in that short time... You know, that poem epitomized Katie. She made the most of every day, and she was never unhappy or gloomy ? unless I didn't agree to buy her that Ferragamo purse! The happiness that rubbed off from Katie onto others around her -- such as all of you -- was so tangible; so real. Any encounter with Katie was like drinking a glass of the best fresh squeezed Florida orange juice you could ever imagine having on a snowy February morning!
My mind wanders to the famous last line of T.S. Elliot's poem, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock": "The world ends not with a bang, but with a whimper." In Katie's case, I think she disproved the poet. As the 4th of July approaches and the fireworks are about to begin, I can tell you with certainty that there was no "whimper" at all about Katie. Her short 23-year life and death were like that one perfect firework you applaud, with brilliant color, shape, flash and style, trailed by a long stream of twinkling lights that seem to sparkle magically forever on their way to earth, finished by a resounding boom that penetrates to your very core... No, Mr. Elliot, Katie did not whimper on her way to the next stage of existence, she banged loudly and affected so many, and we are all fortunate to have shared and witnessed some part of her spirited sense of life and energy...
Katie's boss at her new company in Chicago is quoted in the front page headlines of the Milwaukee Journal with a story of this tragedy as follows: "Katie just lit up a room whenever she came in." Yes, she sure did... And in a surreal and ironic way, those friends who knew Katie well can almost hear Katie saying to us, in her loud, booming and always unrelenting staccato voice: "Well, if I have to go, at least a front page story and a fabulous picture of me with my David Yerman necklace are better than a back-page Obit!"...
I'm afraid I could ramble and go on forever... Perhaps I don't want to stop writing because it will make me realize that it actually is over for our beautiful little Katie, born on the windstorms of Hurricane David in 1979 and grown since with gale force speed to such a wonderful, successful, and friendly young woman. The sky was the limit for her, we all know that. Her potential was boundless...
I watch and look upward to the skies a lot the last few days, following jet plumes drift away into the clouds, and wondering just how far it is; how long it takes; to get to Heaven. Maybe that Katie's cousin Jen is a NASA rocket scientist made the trip go more quickly. It's just one more thing we don't have an answer for since Sunday, like our gnawing questions about why this tragic event could ever have happened to so many young and talented people, yet to fulfill their promise; their hopes; their dreams; their lives? ...I don't know, really, if any of these questions will ever be answered or resolved for us.... What is it exactly that we are supposed to learn and internalize from our study of the classic Greek tragedies? Our morality? Our fragility? Our greed and the devastating effects it may have? Our humanity?... Again, while we are living a tragedy, we have no answers to these things.
Katie, we love you... Your infectious spirit and zest for life are glued and bonded to our every muscle, our bones, our blood, our being, our hearts... You may have left us but know that it is in a temporal, physical sense only... We are still with you, your family and friends. And we will be with you together later; all of us, sometime, and you can then make us all cheerful, and hopefully bring laughter to us, once again...
Katie was my freshman year roommate. She was always energetic and happy. I will never forget my first (and only) night that I tented for a Duke basketball game. Katie was the ring leader. Duke was playing South Carolina State and there was definitely no need to tent for the game. However, being that we were freshmen with lots of energy, Katie and I spent the night in K-ville on a very cold night. After a night of no sleep and lots of laughs, we got dressed for the game with royal blue eyeshadow and ribbons in our hair. Katie's spirit lives on. She is smiling down on us right now.
Pamela M. Keeney, Trinity '01
I have known the Sheriff family since before Katie was born. Her father Jim was a classmate of mine at Duke Law School. I have remained friends with Jim and with Katie's mother Judi over the years. I first met Katie when she was a beautiful blonde two-year-old living with her parents in California. I got to know Katie and her sister Ingrid as young adults while they were students at Duke. Katie was an absolutely lovely and delightful person to be around. She was so friendly and lively. Her death in such a random, unexpected manner is immensely sad and tragic. I can only hope and pray that her family and many Duke friends can take comfort from the good memories of this outstanding young woman. Her life on this earth was much too short, but she left a strong impression on others while she was here.
Dale Hollar, Trinity '76 and Law '79
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