Kate Tallmadge died on Sunday, July 11, at age 104. Last year member Tamara Slaughter talked with Kate about her life and her Presbyterian heritage. Service information will be shared as available.
If you’re lucky enough to engage Kate Tallmadge in conversation, you’ll hear about a rich Presbyterian heritage and an amazing life. To many of us, she’s the nice lady who for years taught craft classes at FPC. Dig deeper and you’ll learn she’s also an accomplished sailor, was a photogrammetry mapmaker during World War II, and was on the cutting edge of computer programming in the 1960’s.
Kate was born, raised, and spent much of her early life in East Orange, about ten miles west of New York City. Her father worked in the city; although he was a seminary trained minister, he worked in Presbyterian Church administration rather than as a pastor in a church. His career choice was no doubt influenced by his father, who went to seminary in Switzerland and was called to a church in a largely German area in upstate New York. With this heritage behind her and her father’s extensive theological and philosophical library in front of her, Kate muses that, had seminary been an option for a young lady at that time, she could well have taken that route.
Instead, she attended Smith College to become an English teacher and went on to Columbia University for an advanced degree in English Literature. In the middle of her thesis work on “an obscure theologian” Sir Thomas More, “the war happened and changed everything!” exclaims Kate. With her new husband, Howard, drafted two months after their wedding, she had a change of heart on her studies and decided to do her bit for the war effort The military needed good maps and there was a brand-new technology to do it, so Kate attended a photogrammetry class at Princeton School of Engineering (graduating at the top of her class). She went directly to Washington, DC to make accurate maps of Europe using photos taken from airplanes. Expressing concern to her coworker, Polly, that they were the only two women in the whole department, Polly said, “We just have to outproduce the men and we’ll be fine.” They did, and they were! A gratifying part of the job was when she received a letter from an Air Force pilot thanking her for the precise maps that he used during the invasion of Normandy.
It was during this time that Kate and Polly, both accomplished sailors, went to help her boss and his wife pilot a new yacht from Annapolis down to Washington, DC. During this two-day trip they managed to mistakenly sail through the middle of battleship practice maneuvers, got soaked in a surprise storm and, dressed in bathing suits while their, ahem, undergarments flapped in the breeze to dry, limped into the dock at Quantico past the presidential yacht lined with sailors at attention!
After the war, Kate continued studies in philosophy at Rutgers University while her husband started a career at Western Electric. As life went on, Kate and Howard were blessed with two sons and a daughter. Kate was active in her Presbyterian church in East Orange, serving on the Session and heading up youth activities. She also made time to take every free class she could, including a computer programming class taught by two Smith graduates. This led to many opportunities, including being the chief programmer for the Rutgers Graduate School Economics Department.
Despite this lofty title and specialized training, Kate has always loved sewing and crafts. “If we wanted anything as children, we had to make it,” she says, crediting that upbringing with her ability to make things by hand. This skill became a very happy one for FPC when Kate and her husband moved to Greensboro in 1977. After visiting other churches, they made FPC their church home despite the drive from where they lived in Forest Oaks. Kate soon began teaching craft classes here. Carol Sellers, a dear friend, longtime FPC member and frequent craft teacher/participant, remembers Kate teaching how to make a Moravian star, which is no small feat. She also recalls that for many years Kate hand-made an angel for each children’s choir member every Christmas, starting months in advance. “Kate is so creative!” Carol avows.
One of Kate’s fondest memories of her years at FPC is the wedding of her daughter, Mary Kate Tallmadge, to Bob Holden. “Mary Kate actually joined First Presbyterian before Howard and I did,” she recalls, referring to their later in life move to Greensboro. As the mother of the bride, Kate was not one to sit on the sidelines. In fact, she made Mary Kate’s dress. And the bridesmaid dresses. And the cake!
Kate has slowed down in recent years, but faithfully attends the Community Service group every week. When she started years ago, this dedicated group of FPC quilters, knitters, and stitchers of all kinds made individual baby items that went to newborns at local hospitals. Kate introduced the idea of everyone working on a coordinated layette including a floor quilt, hat, jacket, and receiving blanket all with the same colors and theme. The layette would then then presented to new parents as a set. This concept took hold and is continued today, with Community Service hand-making beautiful coordinated sets with God’s love and personal care in every stitch.
As Carol Sellers states, Kate is truly a Renaissance woman; a ground breaker during her younger years and still one now as an active centenarian church member. While her experiences over the last hundred-plus years have been rich and rewarding, she does admit that “time, at this age, goes awfully fast!”