Katie Oliver Early spent her last days much as she spent her whole life—making puns, cracking jokes, bopping to the music, and expressing love and appreciation to those around her. She took her last, peaceful breath July 26 at her home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, surrounded by family and friends. Katie’s transition leaves an enormous hole in the lives of those who were fortunate to know and love her, who will cherish many fond memories of love and laughter.
Family and friends were always at the center of Katie’s life. She was an exceptionally loving, supportive and encouraging mother to her children, Christopher and Meghan, and stepson, Cully; a delighted, doting grandmother to Isabel and Olivia; and a loyal, loving wife to Andy Little, her husband of 24 years. She welcomed her children’s stepmother, Carol McLaurin, and spouses—Deven Crock, Daniel Rodriguez, and Zack Coles—into the family with extraordinary warmth.
Katie could always be counted on to bring the silly to family gatherings, such as staging family Christmas photos with ridiculous costumes, supplying gag gifts, and organizing games that soon had everyone laughing. She treasured her sibling trips with Peggy and Gene and regular family get-togethers at the Brownie House in Montreat, including participating in the annual July 4th parade.
Katie made friends easily, forging an immediate heart connection with everyone she met and generously going out of her way to be sure everyone felt appreciated and included. She had an especially close bond with her beloved Bad Girls, with whom she shared many trips to the beach, mountains and elsewhere, and many happy times, fueled by good food, mediocre wine, and boisterous laughter. They will continue to hold her close, to play the word games she loved, and to heartily celebrate the love that binds them together with Katie forever.
Katie was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on June 24, 1952, the youngest child of Ladye Margaret and Gene Early. From Katie’s early childhood, her mother called her by the treasured nickname ‘blithe spirit’ for her bubbly, irrepressible personality. She maintained that infectious exuberance and enthusiasm throughout her life.
Katie always loved horses. She was an avid rider as a youth and seized every opportunity to be on horseback throughout her life, in places as diverse as Puerto Rico, New Zealand and Scotland.
From her earliest days, Katie was endlessly curious about the world and its people, and always up for adventure. She began exploring the world in earnest while attending Davidson College, where she majored in African Studies and Political Science. She was an exchange student in Ghana and later, with her first husband, Tim McLaurin, lived and worked in Tunisia as a Peace Corps Volunteer. She recalled that these life-changing opportunities broadened her horizons immeasurably, giving her a deep appreciation for the beauty and diversity of humanity.
Katie spent four decades in the nonprofit sector, both internationally and domestically. She led the global nonprofit Ipas at a critical time in its development, significantly advancing attention to the neglected, preventable tragedy of unsafe abortion. Katie was well known within her field for inspiring, out-of-the-box thinking focused on improving the lives of women and families. With her close friend and colleague Ann Hogan Leonard, she created a workplace culture at Ipas that was warm and caring, while focused on excellence, and that spawned deep, long-lasting friendships across the globe. In 2014, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central North Carolina bestowed its highest honor on Katie with the Margaret Sanger Award for lifetime achievement in the reproductive health and rights movement.
Katie’s career also included helping entrepreneurs in North Carolina learn the basics of business start-up. She volunteered extensively in her community in support of public education and the wellbeing of critically ill patients and their families. While president of the SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals, she oversaw completion of a 40-room home away from home for families of patients receiving critical care at UNC hospitals.
In recent years, Katie enthusiastically explored photography and other forms of visual expression. She took great pleasure in improving her skills and sharing her vision, including as an active member of the Chapel Hill Camera Club. Ever an entrepreneur herself, she created a line of notecards, prints, calendars, and fabric design featuring her images. To her last days, she had many plans for building her artistic practice, as a way to share beauty and joy with others.
Katie was preceded in death by her parents, Ladye Margaret Craddock Early Arnold and Eugene Early, and her stepfather, Dr. Van M. Arnold. She is survived by her husband, Andy Little; daughter, Meghan McLaurin Rodriguez and spouse Daniel; son, Christopher McLaurin and spouse Deven Crock; stepson, Cully Little and spouse Zack Coles; sister, Peggy Williamson and spouse Jim; brother, Gene Early and spouse Benedicte; stepbrothers, Bill Arnold and spouse Margaret Anne Fohl and Van M. Arnold and spouse Ellen; grandchildren, Isabel and Olivia Rodriguez; and countless other relatives and friends.
Katie’s family is deeply grateful to the UNC Hospitals surgical, radiation, and medical oncology teams for their care over the last year, as well as the wonderful support at home provided by Arosa and Amedisys Hospice. Katie asked that those inspired to make a memorial gift consider donating to Ipas, PORCH Hillsborough, the Chapel Hill Camera Club, or a charity of their choice. Condolences may be offered online at https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/katieo.early. A special email address has also been created to collect memories, stories and photos of Katie. Please send those to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie was loving and playful to the end. As her journey continues, her blithe spirit will always live in the hearts of those who love her.