Last Updated: Monday, May 8, 2000, 4:30 p.m.

Fitzhugh's love for music touched many lives

Kristine Fitzhugh had a passion for music that was contagious. Whether teaching her own children at home or her students at school, Fitzhugh imparted her knowledge of instruments and notes, as well as her love of melodies. Family members, friends and neighbors are struggling with the unexplained loss of the beloved music teacher and Southgate resident, who was found dead in her home on Friday. People who knew the 53-year-old Fitzhugh described her as a warm and caring woman, devoted to her family and volunteering.

"She was a wonderful teacher, very dedicated to the kids in the district, and to education in general and to music education in particular," said Cathy Kroymann, a member of the Palo Alto school board who volunteered with Fitzhugh for a senior health program. "And she was very active in the community, not just in education."

For years, Fitzhugh worked at the Cesar Chavez Academy in East Palo Alto. While at the school in the early 1990s, Fitzhugh began a partnership with the Palo Alto Unified School District that allowed Palo Alto middle schoolers to teach East Palo Alto children how to play musical instruments.

The East Palo Alto students had the instruments and wanted to play, but the school district didn't have the money to sustain a full-time music program. At the time, Fitzhugh said the Palo Alto/Ravenswood Music Collaborative exposed children to music and learning that they otherwise wouldn't have gotten in the underfunded school.

"Music and the arts are as basic as reading and writing," Fitzhugh told the Weekly in 1996. "This program gives them the opportunity to be successful. They learn self-discipline, self-esteem and responsibility."

The collaboration between the two schools also sparked a close friendship between Fitzhugh and Kay Remsen, director of musical programs for Palo Alto schools. Last year, Remsen hired Fitzhugh to be a traveling music teacher for the Palo Alto schools.

Fitzhugh taught fourth-grade general music at six of the district elementary schools this year--Nixon, Escondido, El Carmelo, Duveneck, Addison and Fairmeadow. Even though Fitzhugh was hired as only a part-time employee, Remsen said she made the job a full-time mission. Fitzhugh gave one group of students used kazoos to help them understand musical concepts, Remsen said.

"She cared about and respected every child as an individual," Remsen said. "She never talked about her class. She just talked about her students."

Friends and neighbors said Fitzhugh and her family lived a normal, happy life in their Escobita Avenue home. Fitzhugh and her husband Kenneth, a retired business consultant, were both pianists and supported musical programs throughout the city of Palo Alto.

The Fitzhughs raised two sons, now grown, in Palo Alto, both of whom have become involved in music themselves. Justin, the oldest son, is now a percussionist. The younger son, John, is a trombonist who plans to teach music.

Sarah French, a longtime friend who often traveled with Fitzhugh, said the Fitzhugh family is struggling to deal with the sudden loss, and the news that Fitzhugh appears to be the victim of a homicide.

"All of us are trying to make something out of it, and figure out what happened," French said. "You don't think something like this can happen in this town."

Services for Fitzhugh, which Remsen called "a celebration of her life," will be held Saturday at 3 p.m., at Roller & Hapgood & Tinney at 980 Middlefield Road. People who wish to make donations in Fitzhugh's memory may send them to the Palo Alto/Ravenswood Music Collaborative, c/o Dr. Kay Remsen, 85 D Churchill Ave., Palo Alto, 94306.

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