Kathi Kamen Goldmark battled breast cancer with the same energy and courage that characterized everything else she did.
On May 24, the vivacious singer-songwriter, author, radio producer and, most lately, arts and culture director for the Oshman Family JCC, succumbed at UCSF Medical Center, surrounded by friends and family. Author Amy Tan and brother-in-law Dave Barry were at her side; Maya Angelou and Judy Collins called to say goodbye. She was 63.
“She was with us such a short time, but she had such a major impact on us,” says Mimi Sels, the JCC’s marketing director. “She was a gentle yet rollicking spirit — a hippie, a rocker, a book lover, always full of ideas.”
Born in 1948 in Brooklyn, N.Y., Goldmark grew up in what her husband, Sam Barry, describes as a nonobservant but “extremely Jewish” home in Cold Springs Harbor, N.Y. While her parents inclined toward the scientific rather than the religious, says Barry, “Kathi was a little different; she showed a strong interest in world religions and rituals, and found her way back to a real interest in her own roots through that.”
After college in Ohio, she moved to Los Angeles in 1974 to join boyfriend Jimmy Hodder, a drummer with Steely Dan. She moved in musical and literary circles ever after, soon heading to San Francisco where she shepherded authors to and from interviews to support her real love: singing and playing country rock.
She spent eight years producing the “West Coast Live” radio show, wrote several books and formed her own record company, but she was best known for putting together the Rock Bottom Remainders, an erstwhile band of fellow author-musicians that has played yearly gigs since 1992, raising more than $2 million for charity. With Goldmark at its center, the Remainders over time boasted the likes of Tan (keyboards), Stephen King (guitar), Roy Blount Jr., Mitch Albom and Barbara Kingsolver. Dave Barry played guitar with the group and introduced Goldmark to his brother, whom she married in June 2009.
Goldmark’s first husband, guitarist Joe Goldmark, was Jewish, and they gave their son, Tony, a Jewish education — even though the boy opted to cut a record instead of having a bar mitzvah, a choice his parents offered.
Every year, Sam and Kathi would host rambunctious Passover seders, filled with friends, family and, of course, kazoos. “We got serious when we needed to, we laughed, we feasted,” Barry recalls. “It was a big deal to the people who came, and to Kathi.”
Barry, who is not Jewish, says he’ll have to keep the tradition going, which will be hard without his beloved wife. “But I’ll have a team of Jews to help me,” he notes.
Last November, Goldmark got the job at the Oshman Family JCC. She spent four months there before going on sick leave. Fellow staff members donated their sick days so she could stay on the payroll, Barry says, and dedicated the weekly “Shabbat Shmooze” to her memory after she died.
“That’s a lot of love,” Barry notes. “The JCC was so generous to Kathi and to me.”
The generosity worked both ways, Sels says. “She became part of our family very quickly. She made you feel anything was possible — and it was!”
Goldmark’s last effort at the JCC was to organize Litquake, a half-day celebration of local Jewish writers scheduled for Aug. 26. Sels called it Goldmark’s “legacy”â€ˆat the JCCâ€ˆand said the day will be dedicated to her memory. The Remainders’ final concert will take place June 23 at the Anaheim Convention Center, marking the group’s 20th anniversary.
Goldmark died as she had lived, surrounded by those who loved her. And, at the last, she smiled and whispered the word made famous in “Citizen Kane” — “Rosebud.”
In addition to her husband, she is survived by their three children, Tony Goldmark, Daniel Barry and Laura Barry; her mother, Betty Kamen; and her brothers, Michael and Paul Kamen. A service is planned June 25 at Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco.