Katharine Fox Burnett

September 23, 1926April 15, 2021

Katharine Fox Burnett of Cambridge, MA and Hancock Point, ME, daughter of the late George G. and Helen D Fox, passed away peacefully Thursday morning, April 15, 2021, at an assisted living facility in Wayland, MA. She was 94.

Kate was a remarkable woman and a loving mom, who lived a very full life. Born Katharine Bowne Fox on September 23, 1926, Kate was raised as a girl in Evanston, IL and as a teen in Gainesville, Florida, as her father taught at Northwestern and University of Florida, respectively. She spent summers at Bougemont, her mother’s family home in Charleston, WV. She attended Smith College, arriving by train from Florida at the age of 16 and earned her BA in 1947, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.

Following college, she lived in New York, married Bernard Hanson, and had her first child, Bridget. While there, she earned an MA in Art History at Columbia University. Having divorced Bernard, she moved to Rome and worked as a translator of photo captions for a wire service.

Kate married a second husband Walter Burnett, had two sons, John and Ben and divorced again in the early 1960s, to raise three children as a single mom. In the 1970’s, she returned to academic studies, and completed both an MA from Tufts and PhD from Harvard in English Literature, where her dissertation was on Longinus and the Sublime. She later taught expository writing at BU, Tufts and MIT until her retirement.

Kate was a longtime resident of Walker Street, in Cambridge, MA. She was very active socially in Cambridge, with a great range of friends made on the block, through her teaching positions and her interests in music and the arts and among parents of her children’s schoolmates. She threw notable Christmas parties and attended regular Follen Street poker games. She was vigorous, playing tennis and squash, swimming and hiking regularly.

She spent summers in Hancock Point, ME from her teenage years on, and loved time at the family summer home. Kate loved to sail Frenchman’s Bay and beyond, picnic on the islands, captain her wooden boat -- Snowy Owl, fish for mackerel and take evening swims off our dock. She climbed Mount Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine and the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, numerous times, most recently at the age of 70. In later years, she enjoyed time on the boathouse porch, watching for seals and loons, and looking for “Mr. Nuthatch” and “Mr. Chickadee” at the birdfeeder. She had a memorable smile.

She had a lifelong affection for “old” Florida, having been raised when ‘going to the beach’ from Gainesville meant on a sand road. She loved visiting and remembering Gasparilla Island, Summer Haven and Ichetucknee Springs. Her childhood home on Palm Terrace, Gainesville was under an enormous live oak, and by a sinkhole pond that attracted alligators. She was an avid and diverse reader. She read the New York Times and Boston Globe daily. She read Latin, Greek and Chaucer in middle English. She studied the great playwrights, poets and novelists. And for fun, she read broadly, including the likes of P.G. Wodehouse, Patrick O’Brien, Nordic Noir, among many other genres.

She was a life-long learner, with interests in music, geology, Italian and ornithology, and was always in one study group or another. She played piano and in retirement picked up painting watercolor. Kate was a long-time supporter of Boston Baroque, Massachusetts Audubon and the Nature Conservancy. She was an accomplished cook, of both simple and complex dishes: check with family for their favorites! Kate was fiercely independent, into her later years, and was still driving her SAAB (with its manual transmission) as recently as eight years ago. She could be quite outspoken and held her opinions.

Kate is pre-deceased by her parents and by her siblings Helen (in 1963) and John D Fox (in 2019). She is survived by her three children -- Bridget Hanson, John Burnett and Ben Burnett, and by five grand-children and four great-grandchildren. She was a loving ‘Grandma Kate’ to Russell, Sarah, Katie, Emily and Sam.

Services will be held in late May. Please contact Bridget, John or Ben for details.


No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.


Katharine Fox Burnett

have a memory or condolence to add?