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Kathleen Collins McCormack

August 25, 1941 - May 13, 2019

Kathleen Collins McCormack died at home in Shorewood on May 13, 2019, at age 77, from an illness that in the past few years had whittled her down to a wisp. She is survived by her cherished husband, Thomas; her beloved children, George Hughes, Laura Collins-Hughes and Michael Hughes (Cecilia Feilla); and one small, fur…read more

Kathleen Collins McCormack died at home in Shorewood on May 13, 2019, at age 77, from an illness that in the past few years had whittled her down to a wisp. She is survived by her cherished husband, Thomas; her beloved children, George Hughes, Laura Collins-Hughes and Michael Hughes (Cecilia Feilla); and one small, fur Gossamer, the last in the long parade of her winsomely named felines.

Warm, vibrant and intellectually curious, Kathleen – whose professional name was Kathleen Collins – was a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Deeply passionate about tending to patients, she spent years at the Milwaukee County Mental Health Complex, where she worked for a time in psychiatric intensive care, then, for a decade, at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, where serving veterans proved particularly fulfilling. She retired from the VA in 2015.

She loved hiking and camping and the natural world; for many summers, she was a whitewater-rafting regular on the Wolf River. Later she fell madly for the American West, and the National Park Service hardly had a bigger fan. When it turned 100 the day she turned 75, she celebrated their joint birthday at Yosemite National Park. Travel, whether to Cape Cod or Paris, was one of her great delights. A master at assembling an itinerary, she was always up for a road trip.

The eldest of the five children of Leoette A. and Cyril W. Collins, Kathleen was born in Milwaukee in 1941 and spent a peripatetic early childhood in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. At 10, she moved with her family to New Jersey, where they sank their roots.

Her mother was a nurse, and Kathleen eagerly emulated her, graduating from St. Vincent’s Hospital School of Nursing in New York, then working at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Those Greenwich Village years were among her happiest, and though she moved back to Milwaukee in 1966, New York would never stop calling to her.

She raised her children, did loads of volunteer work, and in her late 30s went back to school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she earned a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s degree. A young relative’s painful experience with schizophrenia had sparked her interest in mental illness, and that became her nursing focus.

Generous both materially and emotionally, Kathleen knew the value of showing up for the people she loved, and she lived that ideal. Reveling in the company of her large, far-flung family, she traveled often to spend time with them. When crisis struck, she would swoop in to help, offering hard work and solace and laughter. Also delicious food that she’d cooked or baked herself. That was one of her pleasures, and one of the ways that she lavished tender care.

Her survivors also include her treasured brother, Michael Collins (Stacey); her sister-in-law and dearest friend, Dorothea Collins; her former sister-in-law, Valerie Collins; a flock of nieces and nephews, who were among her favorite people in the world; and a cadre of extraordinarily devoted friends. Three of her siblings, Cyril Collins, Mary Lee Stapert and Regina Collins, died before her, and she missed them and their humor every day. Her parents and two nephews also predeceased her. So did her ex-husband, George R. Hughes Sr., but they were friends again by then. Avid reader of obits though Kathleen was, she wasn’t ready to find her own name listed here. What she yearned for was a whole new phase, back on the East Coast near her family. But that got stalled in the planning stage. The green burial that she wanted was held on Monday in the Prairie Rest section of Forest Home Cemetery. A memorial will be held later.

In lieu of flowers, you might donate to the National Park Service, the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or you might go for a long walk somewhere beautiful in the way that Kathleen would: stopping frequently to marvel at a blossom or a seashell or some tiny, remarkable creature – savoring the journey in all its details.

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In lieu of flowers, you might donate to the National Park Service, the National Alliance on Mental Illness or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or you might go for a long walk somewhere beautiful in the way that Kathleen would: stopping frequently to marvel at a blossom or a seashell or some tiny, remarkable creature – savoring the journey in all its details.

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