Last Updated: Monday, May 8, 2000, 2 p.m.

Slain music teacher touched many lives

Family members, friends and neighbors struggled to make sense Monday of the unexplained loss of beloved music teacher Kristine Pedersen Fitzhugh, who was found dead last week from what Palo Alto police are now calling a homicide.

"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 Unified School District board, who volunteered with Fitzhugh for a senior health program. "And she was very active in the community, not just in education."

Fitzhugh's body was found Friday at the foot of the basement stairs in her Southgate neighborhood home. Although police initially called her death an accident, they reclassified it Saturday as a homicide, after an autopsy indicated that Fitzhugh's head injuries could not have been received in a fall.

Police on Monday were releasing few details as their investigation into the killing continued.

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 music at six of the district schools this year. 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 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, 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."

Police will hold a neighborhood meeting regarding Fitzhugh's death Tuesday at 11:30 a.m. at the training center next to the Palo Alto school district office at 25 Churchill Ave.

Services for Fitzhugh, which Remsen called "a celebration of her life," will be held Saturday at 3 p.m. at the chapel of Roller, Hapgood & Tinney at 980 Middlefield Road. Memorial contributions may be made to the Palo Alto/Ravenswood Music Collaborative, c/o Dr. Kay Remsen, 85 D Churchill Ave., Palo Alto 94306.

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