When I first met Kate Duffy, it was at RWA in Dallas in 2007, and I was 8.5 months pregnant. I waddled everywhere, and I was, literally, a torpedo. I gave birth 6 weeks later. Like any good pregnant lady at an RWA convention, I was in the bar when I was introduced to Kate Duffy.
There was much squeeing. I was a fan of hers, and she was a fan of our site. She was drinking with one of her authors, but wanted to introduce herself and tell me how much she loved reading Smart Bitches. I was sort of dumbstruck. Ok, I was a lot dumbstruck.
Then, the following day, I mentioned that I was trying to figure out how to get to my flight to Newark, when she said, “Oh, I’ve reserved a car. You’re coming with me.” Enter dumbstruck Sarah, take two. It was 90+ degrees, I was not a little puffy, and exhausted – and she made room for me with her friend Joan, even though she’d just met me the day before. I told her then that I’d have to construct a shrine in her honor, with man titty and diet Pepsi. The shrine has grown a lot in the past two years, and I’m surprised looking back that it’s only been two years since I met Kate. I feel like I’ve known her for so much longer than that. And I know, most certainly, that it wasn’t long enough.
When I tried to explain to my husband why I was so blown away by meeting Kate and talking with her at RWA, I couldn’t figure out how to explain who she was in romance. She wasn’t just an editor or a fan of the genre.
“She’s the Julia Child of romance,” I said.
There isn’t a part of the genre in the United States that hasn’t been touched by Kate’s talent, and that’s not hyperbole. Kate and I used to meet for meals a few times a year and I always came away with a very satisfied belly – Kate had a knack for putting together the best dinner parties at restaurants that absolutely rocked. She could gather the most interesting people and before you knew it, four hours had gone by and you still had things to say and hear.
But more than that, whenever I was with Kate, I always learned something. She has been part of the romance genre in all its myriad incarnations for so long, she was a walking history book of the romance publishing industry, and of the genre as a whole.
“I didn’t want to be a governess or a nurse in Europe. I wanted to read about Americans.” – Kate Duffy
Kate was one of the foundations of the romance genre in the US because she knew there had to be a market for romances featuring American heroines and American settings. Whenever I ate with her, one story would merge into another, and suddenly I had a much deeper insight into how far the romance genre has come in recent years, and how much it’s changed. Kate was a walking history book with a very, very long memory.
“Sarah, I kid you not, dragons. DRAGONS.”
“She has dialogue like Spencer and Tracy. I love it.”
“You have to try this. No, really. Be quiet. Try this.” – Kate Duffy
At RWA in San Francisco, she and I were on the same flight home, and she eagerly shared with me the books and authors she was most excited about and the things that made her happy. I have noise canceling headphones for airline travel because Kate not only told me about them, but tapped me on the head during the flight to Newark and dropped hers onto my lap. She was right.
“Oh, look! I’m a reader!” – Kate Duffy, whose registration at RT in Pittsburgh had her listed not as an editor, but as a reader. “Best RT ever,” she told me.
Kate was often right. It was really annoying sometimes. And if we disagreed, which we did a lot, I’d often get The Look, which I nicknamed The Kate. Many people are familiar with this look. The chin goes down. One eyebrow may go up. And clear as air, you get the message that she thinks you are out of your mind. The word “withering” comes to mind. I was the recipient of The Kate many a time. Sometimes I totally deserved it.
The last time I spoke with her was 1 April 2009, when she told me I’d made a HUGE mistake in putting up an April Fool’s joke that our book had been the subject of a lawsuit brought by Jane Litte on behalf of the International Consortium of Heroes. The first email from Kate read, “I just saw the site. Are you ok?!” Then, a few seconds later, “I get it. Boy, did you ever make a mistake. Not funny.”
So I called her. She gave me a small dose of hell. I wasn’t her author, and our book wasn’t going to be published by Kensington, but she wanted me and our editor, Sulay, to succeed because she cared about us. And she thought I had made a huge goof. She told me so and then said, “Let’s get together for lunch soon. After RT.”
“Writer’s strike? I’m watching the best television in years – have you seen what’s on PBS lately? You have to see this show. Tape it. Better yet, I’ll send you a DVD. ” – Kate Duffy
Kate was determined in her generosity, and generous in her determination. Her many, many kindnesses to me over the years are too numerous to mention. I will miss her presence at conferences, her sense of humor, her wit, her curiosity, her enthusiasm, and most of all, her love of romance and the happily ever after. Kate was the closest thing I’ve had to a mentor since we met, and I valued her wisdom, her opinion, her enthusiasm, and her warmth more than I can say. She was my friend, and I will miss her terribly.
More than anything, I wished for a happier ending for her, that she would have beaten back her illnesses and kicked ass and taken names as usual. It wasn’t meant to be.
Today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and I’ve been in synagogue for most of the morning. It’s also a day of reflection and remembrance, and today I’ve had a lot to reflect upon, remember, cry, and often inappropriately laugh about as I thought about Kate. If you’ve ever met Kate, you know she is unforgettable. May her memory be a blessing to her family, and may they be comforted.
“May the one who makes peace in the heavens make peace for us, and for all who dwell on earth. And let us say: Amen.” (Mourner’s Kaddish, Reconstructionist)
From her family, the obituary is below.
ALICE KATHERINE (“KATE”) DUFFY
Renowned romance genre editor
Kate Duffy (Alice Katherine Duffy) was instrumental in shaping the face and direction of the romance genre from the late seventies and the “romance revolution” of the early 1980s through today, when at any given time the authors she has worked with continue to populate the nation’s best seller lists.
The recipient of numerous honors from national and regional writers organizations, including the Romance Writers of America, she was the first recipient that organizations “Industry Award” in 1991. Recently, RT Book Reviews magazine announced her as the 2010 recipient of their annual Melinda Helfer Award, presented for outstanding support of and contributions to the genre.
Kate first published or worked with, some of the genre’s best known writers, including Jude Deveraux, Julie Garwood, Lori Foster, Heather Graham, Judith McNaught, Mary Janice Davidson, Jacqueline Frank and Mary Jo Putney.
Kate attended Notre Dame Academy, Trinity College, and George Washington University. She studied at Oxford University and returned to the U.K. to work at Paddington Press. Upon returning to the U.S. whe became an editor at Popular Library. She later worked at Dell, Simon & Schuster, where she was the founding editor of Silhouette Books, moved on to Simon & Schuster’s Pocket Books division, Harlequin Enterprises, where she founded the Worldwide Library imprint, and Kensington Publishing, where she established Brava Books. She is also remembered for the hugely successful Tapestry Books imprint at Pocket Books which began in the early 80s and continued for a number of years.
Born January 28, 1953 in Rochester, New York to Benedict James Duffy, Jr. and Alice (Boyle) Duffy, Kate lived in Rochester, New York, Hingham, Massachusetts, London, Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and New York. She spent the bulk of her adult life living in Manhattan. She is survived by her mother, actress Alice Duffy, her sister NBC News producer Clare Duffy, her brother Benedict Duffy and his wife Amanda, her niece Rosalind, her nephews Alex and Elliot, and legions of writers, friends and colleagues who are grateful to have known her.
Kate died at home after a long illness with a variety of complications.