Kathi Goertzen, one of the most recognized and trusted anchors in local TV news for a generation, died Monday after a 14-year struggle with recurring brain tumors.
She was hospitalized late last week with benign but aggressively persistent tumors that had already attacked her elegant face and voice before finally leaving her unable to breathe on her own.
In her final days, she was visited bedside by her large Seattle family, including two daughters, her sisters, father, pastor and colleagues at KOMO-TV. She was 54.
Goertzen, a Seattle native, anchored KOMO newscasts for nearly three decades. She first arrived at the station as a fresh-out-of-college intern in 1979, then joined with anchorman Dan Lewis on Sept. 21, 1987, forming a team that would last more than 20 years.
Indicative of her accessible approach to her local celebrity, Goertzen publicly aired her declining health. In a 2011 news story, she faced full camera to show nerve damage on the left side of her face that left her unable to smile. "I'm not one to hide," she said.
When Goertzen went into intensive care late last week, colleagues at KOMO asked for prayers of support. Within a day, thousands of people tweeted their prayers, and thousands more commented on her Facebook page.
When in public, Lewis said, "the two words I hear more than almost any other: 'How's Kathi?' "
"So many people have come to learn what a strong brave woman she is, what a fighter she is," said Lewis, choking up. "People have really come to admire that, and they respond."
Goertzen maintained an outsized civic profile with volunteer work, not always publicized, for youth-serving nonprofits. She spoke for the past 24 years at annual luncheons for the YWCA of Seattle, King and Snohomish counties, and led a $43 million capital campaign as board president for the organization.
Goertzen was "a complete person," said longtime KOMO weatherman Steve Pool.
"She has this aura, this ethos that permeates the newsroom," said Pool. "There is an elegant class about Kathi that goes along with her undeniable ability to do what she does on a daily basis."
Kathryn L. Goertzen grew up in Seattle, the second-oldest of Irma and Don Goertzen's four daughters. Irma Goertzen, a nurse, was administrator of the University of Washington Medical Center, the first woman in the country to run a major teaching school. She instilled civic duty into her daughters, said Pool.
"If you met her mother, you'd understand Kathi," Pool said.
Goertzen swam at the now-closed Queen Anne High School, then graduated from Washington State University, and remained a vocal Cougar fan in this Husky town.
Arriving at KOMO at the age of 22, Goertzen developed a reputation as a dogged but compassionate reporter. She first anchored a broadcast in 1982, and she quickly came to own an anchor chair.
She infused reports with humor, quipping after a feature on a mud-caked rhino that had just been introduced to a mate, "That one guy might improve his chances if he'd take a bath."
Eric Johnson, a longtime KOMO reporter and anchor, said Goertzen had a unique, subtle way of telling viewers "that she's one of us."
"She was as comfortable having tea with the queen as she would be in the corner saloon, BS-ing with blue-collar workers," said Johnson. "She was comfortable in her own skin, and people were drawn to that. She was magnetic in that way."
Goertzen won five Emmy Awards and one Edward R. Murrow award, priding herself on her ability to carry a breaking-news broadcast without a script.
"Kathi had a way of making people feel at ease," said KOMO news director Holly Gauntt. "She would disarm them because she's so down to earth and so funny."
Goertzen's long collaboration with Lewis, Pool and Johnson led to shared family vacations at Suncadia, Lake Quinault Lodge, Hawaii and elsewhere.
Goertzen met her husband, KOMO account executive Rick Jewett, in the late 1980s while he was a freelance news photographer. Goertzen had a daughter, Alexa, now 23, from a previous marriage, and a 17-year-old daughter, Andrea, with Jewett.
Goertzen proudly played recordings of Alexa's singing or videos of Andrea's softball games on her iPhone for colleagues. In a Seattle Times story that appeared last Mother's Day, Goertzen said she was trying to "hang on for long enough" to find a cure for her tumors.
"We try to keep those thoughts out of our heads," Andrea Jewett said.
Goertzen endured her first surgery to remove a brain tumor, a rare type of meningioma, in 1998 after she experienced hearing loss. Eight subsequent surgeries could never completely remove the growth. Repeated rounds of radiation and experimental treatments in Europe couldn't, either.
She continued working even after giving up the anchor chair, and kept viewers updated on her health, including the surprisingly candid images of her facial disfigurement. "I've never hidden this whole experience of what happened to me," said Goertzen in a 2011 KOMO story. "Now I'm showing it off."
Before her ninth surgery in February, Goertzen returned to the newsroom for hugs and pictures with the staff. "It was almost as if people had an inkling that she wouldn't be able to come back again," said Johnson.
Goertzen is survived by her husband, Rick Jewett, two daughters, Alexa Jarvis and Andrea Jewett, and her mother and father, Irma and Don Goertzen, all of Seattle.
Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or email@example.com.