To those who live on the streets, Stacy Kirkpatrick was more than just a nurse practitioner at Boston Health Care for the Homeless — more than a caregiver who brought her healing presence to shelters. “She was my family,” said Larry Adams, who was her patient for many years.
“I was homeless and I was an addict. I was all messed up. I’m the kind of person, I don’t trust nobody,” said Adams, who helped found and chaired the health care agency’s Consumer Advisory Board. He put his faith in Ms. Kirkpatrick, however. “Her word was gospel. Whatever she said, I did. As a matter of fact, the reason I’m here is she saved my life.”
For 17 years Ms. Kirkpatrick ministered to the medical needs of Boston’s neediest — patients who because of wariness, mental illness, or substance abuse sometimes miss appointments and disappear, only to return weeks or months later, their health more fragile.
“Stacy never got emotional about control with patients. She knew how to wait until they were ready. For a clinician, that’s difficult,” said Kathleen Saunders, a nurse practitioner colleague at Boston Health Care for the Homeless for whom Ms. Kirkpatrick was a mentor.
“I think that’s what made her so successful in her care of patients,” Saunders added. “They would always come back. There was never any judgment about why they missed this appointment or that appointment. It was always, ‘I’m so glad to see you today, tell me what’s happening now?’ ”
Ms. Kirkpatrick, whose skill at instilling a sense of family extended from her patients and colleagues to ever-widening circles of friends that reached back to her youth in Texas, died of cancer March 16 in her Medford home. She was 52 and had raised about $60,000 for cancer research and treatment by riding in the Pan-Mass Challenge several times after her initial diagnosis 11 years ago.
“I carried the names of over 90 people who are affected by cancer given to me by donors,” she told the Medford Transcript in August after finishing what turned out to be her final fund-raising ride.
Each year, Ms. Kirkpatrick “would ask friends and families to give her names of people they wanted her to ride for — they might be survivors, someone in treatment, or someone to be remembered,” said Carole Hohl, a work colleague and longtime riding friend. “She would carry those names with her either in her saddlebag or sometimes pinned to her shirt and dedicate her ride to those people.”
And in her heart, family and friends say, Ms. Kirkpatrick carried the names of everyone she befriended — a list that grew endlessly. “She was such an incredibly warm, welcoming, friendly, and funny person that everyone she met ended up becoming a friend, and she maintained those friendships for many, many years,” said Ms. Kirkpatrick’s wife, Karen Shack.
“She pulled together personal friends, work friends, and family from all different parts of her life and connected people with each other, and everyone felt special,” Shack added.
Dr. Jim O’Connell, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless, said Ms. Kirkpatrick was “one of those rare people who, when they’re around, everything just seems better and when they’re not around, something seems missing. She infused joy into everyone around her. You realized that she had a magical effect on everyone she met.”
Ms. Kirkpatrick grew up in Texas, the only child of Mike Kirkpatrick and the former Leah Lacaze. Her father worked for Southwestern Bell, AT&T, and the engineering school at Southern Methodist University. Her mother worked for Southwestern Bell.
At Berkner High School in Richardson, Texas, Ms. Kirkpatrick played tuba in the orchestra and marching band and continued as a musician at Southern Methodist University, from which she graduated in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in English.
For several years she worked as a copywriter for The Container Store and in marketing for companies such as Cellular One, moving to Boston to be closer to friends.
A decade out of college, she enrolled at the MGH Institute of Health Professions and received a master’s in nursing in 1999. Clinical rotations during school introduced her to caring for the poor, and the year she graduated she joined the Boston Health Care for the Homeless staff as a nurse practitioner, becoming associate director of clinical operations in 2013.
“There was always something in her that was drawing her to that kind of work,” Shack said. They were introduced through a mutual friend while playing squash and were a couple for 25 years, marrying in 2005.
Ms. Kirkpatrick “had a phenomenal relationship with her patients,” said Dr. Jessie Gaeta, chief medical officer at Boston Health Care for the Homeless. Along with a “keen clinical sense,” Ms. Kirkpatrick brought boundless compassion that made her seek out patients for checkups and updates many times each year at the Long Island shelter and St. Francis House, said Gaeta, who added that “she would lose sleep about people she was worried about for any reason.”
Such devotion might suggest that Ms. Kirkpatrick left little time for life away from work, but that was never the case. “She was a connector across different groups of friends. People would come together through her,” Gaeta said.
Ms. Kirkpatrick retained her Texas-born loyalty to the Dallas Cowboys but adopted the Red Sox as a favorite baseball team and often attended sporting events, ticking off entries on a must-attend list that included the Olympics, the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the Indianapolis 500.
A music aficionado, she also went out to hear live music as often as possible and “always knew what the best new restaurants were in Boston,” Saunders said. “She had a real thirst for culture and experiencing things. She had an endless amount of energy, and I don’t think she took anything for granted.”
Family and friends are planning a private gathering to celebrate the life of Ms. Kirkpatrick, who in addition to Shack leaves her mother, of Fairview, Texas.
On Saturday at 11 a.m., a ribbon-cutting will take place in Jamaica Plain at a 20-bed medical respite facility for the homeless that is being renamed the Stacy Kirkpatrick House. Ms. Kirkpatrick began her Boston Health Care for the Homeless career in 1999 at the building, which was then called the Barbara McInnis House.
In 2005, Ms. Kirkpatrick was diagnosed with breast cancer and treated with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. The diagnosis, she told the Medford Transcript, got her interested in the Pan-Mass Challenge, which she first rode in 2008. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014, she returned to ride again last summer. In the autumn, she learned that the ovarian cancer had recurred.
“We knew each other for over 25 years,” Shack said. “I don’t think I heard her once over the entire time I knew her complain about anything related to her — the pain or anything. That’s a testament to who she was as a person.”
Ms. Kirkpatrick, Shack said, dealt with each diagnosis and treatment with the optimism she brought to all parts of her life.
“She suffered terribly over the past few years, and she never once came to work without smiling,” O’Connell recalled. “She knew how to handle suffering in a way that she turned into joy.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.