A few weeks before Mother’s Day in 2012, Natalie Crate’s daughter, Helena, turned 6, and “it hit me like a splash of cold water,” Mrs. Crate wrote on “Mom Letting It Roll,” a blog she began a year and a half earlier. “It seemed she had sprouted a foot within a few short weeks, faster than the spring bulbs bursting out of dense soil starved for light and air.”
Lest anyone think otherwise, she reminded readers that she wasn’t a sudden convert “to the ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone’ adage because I am cherishing every single – sometimes maddening – moment.”
Ten months after Helena was born, Mrs. Crate was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and doctors told her she might live another year, two at most. Instead she lived for more than seven, long enough to savor some of her daughter’s childhood and to ensure that Helena would have more than fleeting memories of her mother.
“These years spent nurturing my joyful and kind-hearted daughter have been such comfort,” Mrs. Crate wrote on that Mother’s Day. “She is a candle in the night, my rainbow after the rain. Her laugh is constant and contagious. Her little hands, covered in markers, hold my cheeks as she whispers ‘I love you, Mommy,’ and I wonder if she is not wiser and more brave than me.”
Mrs. Crate, who was an aide to Ann and Mitt Romney during his term as Massachusetts governor and his campaigns, died July 7 in the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers. She was 41 and lived in Beverly.
Canadian by birth, she left Toronto a dozen years ago to work on Mitt Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
“She was beyond everything else a very, very dear friend,” said Ann Romney. “We adored her. We knew her family and they were just part of our lives.”
Mrs. Crate “had this infectious laugh,” she said. “She giggled and got such a kick out of life. She was spontaneous, joyful, and silly at times and just fun to be around.”
Nevertheless, in her governmental role “Natalie was a very no-nonsense, get-the-job-done, no-foolishness kind of person,” Mitt Romney recalled. “That being said, she was also a very warm and gracious and engaging person.”
She was “at the center of the team,” working with the staffs of the House speaker and the Senate president to help manage communications, he said. “As a result, she made the interactions between our respective wings of government work more smoothly and more effectively.”
“We’re going to miss Natalie a great deal,” Romney added.
An only child, Natalie Waczko was born and grew up in Toronto. Her father died when she was young, and her mother, Barbara, remarried and continued to work so that Natalie could attend Havergal College, a girls’ prep school in Toronto.
While at Havergal, she was on the crew team and competed in the Head of the Charles Regatta. “She went and enjoyed the experience on the Charles River so much that upon returning home commented that one day she would like to live in Boston,” her stepfather, Richard Smith of Toronto, said in a eulogy at Mrs. Crate’s memorial service July 12 in St. John’s Episcopal Church in Beverly Farms.
She also made such deep, lasting friendships at Havergal and at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, from which she graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, that 22 friends flew in from Toronto for the memorial service.
At Queen’s University, she took part in the Model United Nations program, and later worked as a legislative assistant and policy adviser at Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Trade, and Tourism. She also was a policy adviser for tourism and gaming in the Ministry of Tourism, Culture, and Sport.
In 2002, a friend who was working on Romney’s gubernatorial campaign suggested that she move to Massachusetts. That led to becoming an aide to the Romneys and to meeting Bradley Crate, who also worked on the campaign.
They began dating, and “I don’t know that it was necessarily the best kept secret,” he recalled. They married in 2004.
“She had a great love for people,” he said. “She had a great love for helping others out, and she always thought about other people long before she thought about herself.”
Helena Reagan Crate was born in 2006. The Crates were working on Romney’s first presidential bid when Mrs. Crate was diagnosed with cancer in February 2007.
Afterward, “the goal was to make sure Helena would have a memory of her Mom,” her husband said in a eulogy. “Birthdays came and went, and Natalie battled on and then all of a sudden we hit a clearing. We got to the point where Helena would have distinct memories of her Mommy.”
The family moved to Beverly, and Mrs. Crate’s husband started Red Curve Solutions, a treasury management firm that offers financial guidance to political campaigns. Two years ago, they also launched stop3.org, which raises funds “to provide caregivers and patients of brain cancer support as well as donate to projects whose purpose is to defeat brain cancer,” according to its website.
Motherhood and illness left neither time nor energy for the political involvement of her past, so Mrs. Crate turned to freelance writing and started her blog, in which she sometimes touched on her dual loyalties to her adopted nation and the country of her youth. She loved Thanksgiving, “and because I am both Canadian and American, I can celebrate two of them,” she wrote of the holiday, which sometimes falls on different days in the two countries.
In June 2011, she wrote about the emotional distance between Beverly and Toronto.
“Each time we travel back to my childhood home, where my parents and many of my close friends still live, I call it ‘going home,’ ” she wrote. “But when we’re on the interstate heading back to our small town or driving from the airport, I call that ‘going home,’ too. I’m sad when I leave either and equally happy to return to both. Maybe I’m one of those fortunate souls who has two homes . . . two places where my heart feels full and peaceful.”
She also talked candidly about how at times day-to-day life obscures the epiphanies a terminal illness offers. For a while, her tumor had stabilized, offering “more days to hug my baby and kiss my husband, to wake up and look at the towering pine trees in our backyard while listening to the thunderous roar of the ocean in the distance,” she wrote in 2011.
Yet there also were moments when she lost sight of how each day was a gift. “To put it all too simply: Life got in the way, cluttering the path with nonsense and clouding my vision with busyness.”
And so “starting today, Jan. 2, I will be grateful for every day that I open my eyes and breathe deeply. . . . I will be grateful for the fullness of experience. After all, I’m alive and healthy and once upon a time, that was all I ever wanted.”Bryan Marquard
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