The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Kate Puzey and the Death of Beauty

Posted on | May 13, 2011 | 8 Comments

I asked myself — “Of all melancholy topics, what, according to the universal understanding of mankind, is the most melancholy?” Death — was the obvious reply. “And when,” I said, “is this most melancholy of topics most poetical?” From what I have already explained at some length, the answer, here also, is obvious — “When it most closely allies itself to Beauty: the death, then, of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world . . .”
Edgar Allen Poe, “The Philosophy of Composition”

Benin is one of the poorest countries in the world. With a per-capita GDP of $1,600, Benin is poorer than Pakistan, Sudan, Cambodia and even North Korea. So if an idealistic young person wanted to help poor people, Benin would be a good place to start.

Wedged into the Atlantic coast of west Africa between Togo and Nigeria and home to about 10 million people, Benin ranks 187th among the world’s nations in life expectancy, while ranking 30th in infant mortality. A host of terrible diseases contribute to this high death rate: bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, hepatitis A, typhoid fever, malaria, yellow fever and meningococcal meningitis.

Public sources about the leading causes of death in Benin, however, don’t rank murder among them.

However, murder was the cause of death of Catherine “Kate” Puzey, a Peace Corps volunteer working in Badjoude, Benin, when she was killed in March 2009.

Being a newsman by trade, I take professional pride in my cynicism. And as a conservative, I have utter contempt for those who believe that the only way to save the world is at the expense of U.S. taxpayers. So when I blogged about the revelations of pervasive sexual abuse of Peace Corps volunteers, my initial reaction was purposefully cynical and my second reaction was characteristically blunt:

Another Bad Liberal Idea That Failed

Nevertheless, the story of Kate Puzey’s death moved me to tears. John Coyne tells the basic facts:

Her mother, Lois Puzey, says that Kate discovered a co-teacher — not a Peace Corps Volunteer — was sexually abusing some of the female students at the school where they worked.
“Co-teachers and other students were upset and they came to Kate to try to get some help, to contact someone and try to get him out of the school,” Mrs. Puzey told the reporter. “She [Kate] tried to do that anonymously and unfortunately the anonymity was broken.”
Puzey said her daughter’s murder happened within days of her reporting the other teacher.

Her childhood friend Austin Hess writes:

I knew her primarily though our mutual friend, Annie Hunziker. Truth be told, we didn’t get along perfectly all of the time. I used to give Kate a bit of a hard time for being a “goody-two-shoes.” I used to refer to her circle of friends teasingly as the “baby-sitters club” . . . She was such a fundamentally good person that (I’m ashamed to admit) it actually got on my nerves. I was actually jealous that someone could be so hardworking and cheery, so smart and beloved.

And as Hess explains, she was killed because she had tried to protect children from a predator, her death a reprisal for that heroic act.

On the one-year anniversary of Kate Puzey’s death, Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson gave a floor speech in the United States Senate in tribute to her, recalling how he had attended her funeral:

“When I read the article in the Atlanta newspaper about her death, I was compelled to go to the funeral that day, to a family I did not know in a neighborhood I had not visited. I sat at the back of the church, and I listened for 2 hours to the tributes of young person after young person, minister after minister, teacher after teacher, Peace Corps volunteer after Peach Corps volunteer, talking about this wonderful woman of the world, this wonderful light to the world. Kate Puzey graduated at the top of her class in Cumming, GA, Forsyth County, in high school. She went on to William and Mary College, graduated with distinction and honors, was president of student government in high school, was everything you would like to see in a young person. . . .”

Senator Isakson’s speech mentioned this video, “Light a Candle for Kate.” Be prepared to cry:

If that doesn’t break your heart, you don’t have a heart. She was a truly beautiful woman and, as Poe said, such a death is melancholy indeed.

Kate’s Voice is a group dedicated to the memory of Kate Puzey.


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