The funeral service for fashion icon and Kansas Citian Kate Spade began with the singing of “The First Noel,” because she was born on Christmas Eve and her middle name was Noel. It ended with some 1,000 voices — friends, family and hundreds of others who simply admired the designer — singing “Danny Boy,” honoring her Irish heritage.
It was in Kansas City that Spade grew up as Katy Brosnahan. It’s where she attended Notre Dame de Sion as a child and where she went to St. Teresa’s Academy as a young girl. It’s where many of her family and dear friends from her childhood still live.
It’s also where on Thursday, those who loved her gathered, on a rainy and cool first of day of summer, to remember Spade not for all she accomplished in creating a worldwide fashion brand of cheery handbags, dresses and accessories, but more for who she was inside: kind, funny, an affectionate and unpretentious soul with boundless love for the daughter she left behind, 13-year-old Frances Beatrix, known as Bea.
Battling severe depression and anxiety, Spade took her own life June 5 at her New York Park Avenue condominium.
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“It was a beautiful and light ceremony, just like Kate was,” said Thelma Woods of Kansas City, who entered Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish Redemptorist Church for the 3 p.m. service. Like many others, she did so, she said, because she somehow felt connected to Spade through her sweet personality and the beauty of her work.
The service, a Catholic mass and remembrance that lasted past 4:30 p.m., began with an announcement that came as a shock to many.
Frank Brosnahan, Spade’s 89-year-old father, had died at his Brookside-area home the night before, surrounded by family. A statement released to The Star two minutes prior to the start of Spade’s service said that Brosnahan had been in failing health and was “heartbroken over the recent death of his beloved daughter.”
Woods said the priests at the church announced the news. “The entire church gasped in astonishment,” she said.
The Spade family requested that no media attend the service. Those who did attend described the theme of the program as love. Spade’s cremated remains sat in a large, eggshell white urn at the front of the Gothic church, flanked by a long row of coral charm peonies.
“It was a gorgeous, gorgeous service. The voices were beautiful, the service was beautiful,” said Maurine Pachter, who attended as a respectful and admiring fan. “They talked about her a great deal — the childness of her, her beautiful personality .... I did not know her, but other people did.”
Kelly Carter, a friend of one of Spade’s sisters, said, “The message was just that she was such a beautiful soul, almost childlike in her laughter; she was unpretentious.”
Spade is one of six Brosnahan children that include four sisters — Ann Brosnahan DiVita, Eve Brosnahan Brisley, Reta Saffo, Missy Brosnahan — and one brother, Earl F. Brosnahan III, who gave his sister’s eulogy. Earl Brosnahan is the father of actress Rachel Brosnahan, who won a 2018 Gloden Globe for her role in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Rachel Brosnahan was at the service.
Spade’s husband, Andy Spade, also provided a eulogy. He is the brother of comedian and actor David Spade, who also joined the family at the church.
Although the mass and service did not begin until midafternoon, friends and admirers began gathering outside the church’s locked door as early as noon.
Carrying their Kate Spade bags, friends Debbie Staab, Kathy Rohr and Margie Morrison were among the first mourners to arrive.
“We’re Katy’s classmates,” Morrison said. She and the others from the St. Teresa’s Academy’s Class of 1981 waited in their SUV outside the church at 3333 Broadway. At least 15 of their friends were headed to join them, Rohr said, so they could all be together. Rohr took out her phone and showed a black-and-white photo from their high school years of more than a dozen smiling girls.
“That’s Katy in the middle,” Rohr said.
“She was incredibly kind and had a very memorable laugh,” Morrison said.
Just before Redemptorist’s doors opened, at about 1:45 p.m., more than 70 people had huddled outside in the rain, including Olivia Lott, who never knew or met Spade.
“I just feel like her vocation was to fill the world with beautiful things,” Lott said.
At about 2:30, a hearse and cars carrying family members pulled up to the front of the church.
Angela Ross, owner of seven Kate Spade purses, three watches, four coffee mugs, earrings and more, and who for months had been planning a Kate Spade-themed birthday, arrived to to pay her respects.
Christy Dover, 38, drove two hours with her friend, Brittany Porter, from Brookfield, Mo., out of compassion and a sense of connection.
“We like Kate Spade’s products — we always have,” she said. “Our town has been ravaged by suicides,” including several teenagers within a year. Her uncle, she said, also took his life.
“We just feel for her,” she said.
Jean Gubar of Kansas City attended middle school and high school with one of Spade’s sisters. Gubar’s father died in the Hyatt Hotel walkway collapse of 1981.
“I know the sting of sudden tragedy,” she said. She added she once met Kate Spade. “She was such a nice person, so unpretentious.” Her voice caught with emotion as she wiped away tears. “I just wish she had reached out to someone.”
News of Spade’s death by suicide, at age 55, came as a jolt.
Soon after, family members quickly confirmed that although Spade had seemed happy on the day just prior to her death — even talking about an upcoming trip to California with her daughter — that she also had been battling depression and anxiety for five years.
Just prior to Spade’s funeral, Kate Spade New York Foundation announced plans to donate $1 million to support suicide prevention and mental health awareness in honor of the company’s late founder.
“Kate suffered from depression and anxiety for many years,” Andy Spade wrote in a statement to The New York Times.
“She was actively seeking help and working closely with her doctors to treat her disease,” he wrote, “one that takes far too many lives. We were in touch with her the night before and she sounded happy. There was no indication and no warning that she would do this. It was a complete shock. And it clearly wasn’t her. There were personal demons she was battling.”
Reta Saffo, one of Spade’s sisters, told The Star that she had long worried about her sister’s mental health and that when she took her life, the act was “not unexpected.” Spade’s brother responded that Saffo had long been estranged from much of the family, other than Kate, and her interpretation was not accurate.
Andy Spade was not present at the time of his wife’s death, nor was their daughter, who was at school. The couple had separated about 10 months prior to Spade’s death, living in residences not far from each other. Their daughter split time with both mom and dad.
Andy Spade wrote that the couple, who married 24 years ago and were business partners, had not discussed divorce.
“We were best friends trying to work through our problems in the best way we knew how,” he wrote. “We were together for 35 years. We loved each other very much and simply needed a break.”
Kate Spade reportedly left a note to her daughter that was found at the scene of her death telling her daughter she loved her and that her death was not her fault.
Debra Entine of Overland Park, who has suffered depression and arrived early at the funeral, said she hopes part of Spade’s legacy will be to destigmatize mental illness.
In her obituary, which ran in The Star on Sunday, the family noted Spade’s numerous achievements as a designer, but emphasized her humanity and character.
“Those who knew her personally can share stories of a phenomenally loving, giving, humble, warm and affectionate woman who tragically left this world far too soon,” the obituary read. “Katy’s determination was matched only by her generosity. Loyal almost to a fault, Katy could be counted on to support her friends and family in times of trouble without question or judgment. Her sense of humor was one of her most enduring and charming qualities. Her quick and infectious laugh still resonates in the minds of all who knew her. Katy was always perceptive. She always aspired to put the best interests of others ahead of her own. Katy will always be remembered lovingly for her conscientiousness and empathy. She loved animals. She was a devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister. Katy was kind beyond words to describe. She will be dearly missed by those who knew her and by the millions she inspired.”
Soon after her death, Spade’s father expressed his wish that his daughter’s body be returned to Kansas City for burial near her mother, June Mullen Brosnahan, who died in 2010 and is buried at Forest Hill & Calvary Cemetery, 6901 Troost Ave.
“They were very close,” Frank Brosnahan told The Star. The funeral program did not include details regarding interment.
Redemptorist Church is the same church, Frank Brosnahan had said, where his parents — Kate Spade’s paternal grandparents — were wed.
Spade’s ashes were removed from the church Thursday with honor guard-like precision, the urn being held high and walked with slow, deliberate steps to the back of a waiting hearse.
Once the hearse drove off, the church emptied. Spade’s family remained outside, hugging and receiving hugs from the many who knew and loved Kate Spade.