I’ve lived in Portland going on 18 years and have barely set foot on the campus of Portland State University. I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve been there. Once, exactly. How is this possible?

A professor friend of mine invited me to come to her class tonight and talk about my volunteer work at the free clinic. I arrived in plenty of time and decided I would stroll around a bit and drop a hundred bucks on someone.

I parked the car and was putting money in the meter when a woman walked by, talking on the phone. “I just need to hear your voice to calm myself down. It’s been a rough day.” She was walking straight and tall; I never would have known she was in distress. I tried to keep my eye on her as I fed quarters into the meter. By the time I had the receipt stuck to the window, she was gone.

As I walked around, it started to drizzle. There were lots and lots of people on the sidewalks and walkways and I found it hard to focus on my task.

Then I saw this woman unlocking her bicycle. I couldn’t see her face but a quiet energy drew me in. It’s risky to approach someone before seeing their face; I usually try to get a good look before I make my move.

I picked her

It was raining harder. I went right up to the woman and said something about the crummy weather. She looked up at me and I saw her face for the first time. “Yeah,” she said. “It’s wet. But I’ve got my stuff in my dry bag so I’m okay.” She patted the orange bag she was fastening to her bike.


Her name was Kate and she had a beautiful, sweet and open face. She said she was a music student and listened as I told her a brief version of my story. “I have something I want to give you,” I said, handing her the hundred.

“Is this for real?” she asked, her eyes wide. She told me she could definitely use it. “It’s hard to find a job here,” she said with a small shrug.

I wanted to know more about how she came to be majoring in music. She said she was from Utah and had studied violin for ten years with a beloved teacher named Billy Brown. The two of them became very close. When she started college Kate decided to change her path and study Environmental Sciences. “But,” she said, “I don’t know what I was thinking! I took one science class and realized: I’m terrible at this!”

A couple of months into the school year, Kate’s mother came to visit and delivered the terrible news that Billy had died. Kate decided to pick up the violin again and studied for a time with Billy’s own teacher, a member of the Utah Symphony.

As we were saying goodbye, Kate was looking at me shyly. “Can I get a hug?” she asked. She was tiny in my arms, like a lovely little bird.

When I came home I Googled “Billy Brown” and found her obituary. I was shocked to see that she was only 29 when she died.

Somehow, I have a feeling that Kate is a wicked good violinist. And I just know Billy is listening.




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8 Responses to Remembering Billy

  1. DJan says:

    You’re right: look at that open face with a beautiful smile. I do hope Billy is listening, too. 🙂

  2. Paul Brown says:

    I watched Kate grow up on the violin. She was definitely one of Billy’s favorite students. I needed this story. Billy died 23 months ago tomorrow. For ten years I was blessed to be her husband.

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Paul- My thoughts are with you. I am so sorry for your loss, as well as for all who knew and loved Billy. She was clearly an extraordinary person; I could sense some of her light shining out from Kate’s sweet face. I would be honored to include a photo of her in the blog post if that is something you would feel okay about. If so, please send me an email through the “Contact” page. Jill

  3. Mikelle says:

    Jill, thankyou for this beautiful blog. What an amazing lady you are. I was privledged to know Billy, Mr. Brown, and Kate… we all lived in the same small town and I danced with Kate, took lessons from Billy, and Mr. Brown was my band teacher.

    Not only is Kate an excellent violin player but she is an amazing dancer. She is truly an amazing person. You could never be around Kate without feeling happy and excited about life. She is as happy as she is sweet.

    Billy is absolutely amazing as well as you’ve assumed. She was so talented, beautiful, and the BEST wife and mother!

    Mr. Brown… WOW! Mr. Brown taught band and was an amazing influence on us as little immature Jr. High students and later as slightly more mature High School students. When he moved out of our small town he was misseD.

    You’ve really been introduced to three of the most amazing people EVER!

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Wow; thank you for this beautiful comment. I am truly awed by the ripples that can occur after one simple act. Hundreds of people have read the post about Kate and Billy; they both are clearly deeply loved. Thank you for sharing a bit more about them; I love “knowing” all three! And you are pretty amazing yourself. Jill

  4. Sandesh Kaur says:

    Kate is my best friend and the other night received a text saying “wow.. a woman just gave me $100!”
    Billy was my cousin.

    She definitely shines through Kate by her brightness and everytime she touches a violin.

    Thank you for such a beautiful project to break the social barriers we have created and to give everybody a reminder that we are all connected 🙂

    • Jill Ginsberg says:

      Hello and thank you for the sweet note! It was such a pleasure to meet Kate and to see the outpouring of love and affection for both her and Billy. I am very sorry for your loss. Please give my best to Kate!! Jill

  5. Margot says:

    Wow, I’m so touched that tears are rolling down my cheeks, and I don’t even know a single person mentioned in this story. You are doing amazing work and making amazing connections. I wish we could see the infinite ripples of the lives you are touching and how they are affecting others.

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