Updated: Oct. 2, 2017 at 3:49 p.m.
Friends and family say Katie Fisher was one of the most selfless and compassionate people they have ever known.
Fisher, a second-year student in an online program at the Milken Institute School of Public Health, will be remembered for bringing joy to the lives of all she met and caring deeply and passionately about other people, even those she barely knew, relatives said. The 23-year-old died in early September in Pennsylvania and the public health school was notified of her death Saturday.
The cause of her death has not been publicly announced.
Fisher was a gifted student who wanted to pursue a career in preventive medicine, relatives said. Her mother, June Fisher, said when Katie was in high school, the family raised puppies to become seeing-eye dogs for the blind and in college Katie taught cross country skiing at the local YMCA.
Katie Fisher graduated cum laude from the University of Vermont last year with a degree in nutrition and dietetics. She was living in Burlington, Vt. and taking online classes in the public health school before her death.
June Fisher remembered on Katie’s 12th birthday that she asked not for gifts, but for money for an African child she wanted to sponsor. She couldn’t decide which child she wanted to support, so Katie and her mother went to an orphanage in Swaziland, a country in southern Africa, where Katie fell in love with a girl named Ruthie, who she almost couldn’t bear to leave behind, her mother said.
“That’s the kind of kid she was,” June Fisher said. “She wore her heart on her sleeve and everybody knew it.”
After seeing the devastating effects of malnutrition and AIDS in Africa, Katie was inspired to go into preventive medicine and make her mark on the world at an agency like the Center for Disease Control, June said. That passion led Katie to change her major from biology to nutrition and dietetics at the University of Vermont and then to enroll in the online master’s of public health program at GW.
Kim Palmer, a friend of the family who has known Katie Fisher since she was a first grader, said she remembers looking at pictures of her playing pattycake with the children in Swaziland and thinking how the picture captured the way she lived her life.
“You just see pure joy and that’s her,” Palmer said. “There were no boundaries.”
She had a smile that lit up the room and maturity and intelligence beyond her years, Palmer said. Growing up in Wurtsboro, N.Y., Fisher was a babysitter for Palmer’s two kids, Jack and Catherine. She would braid Catherine’s hair and devote all her attention to being with kids.
“She just made you feel like you were the most important thing to her even if there were 300 people in the room,” Palmer said.
Palmer gave a eulogy at Katie’s funeral and called her a “magnet” because people wanted to be around her. Butterflies were available for attendees to take to remind them of their connection to Katie Fisher, and how deeply she was loved.
“She had the ability to make you feel important and special,” Palmer said. “And I don’t know that everyone can do that.”
Cat Mullin became friends with Katie Fisher almost as soon as she moved into her residence hall in her junior year of college. She was always “unapologetically herself,” Mullin said.
Both Mullin and Katie Fisher’s love of healthy living bonded the two women and lead to some creative experiments.
Mullin recalled how they both signed up for a fresh vegetable delivery service and wound up cooking cabbage in different ways for weeks. On another occasion, the pair tried to make chocolate mousse with avocados, but wound up scooping barely edible food off shards of glass when the blender dropped on the floor.
“She was so funny,” Mullin said. “She was just a silly person.”
Allie Detwiler met Katie Fisher as a freshman in college and treasures the rare moments when Katie wasn’t working. In Katie’s senior year, Detwiler said she worked three jobs, and it was not often that Katie found time to sit and chow down on her favorite snack, cranberries and peanut butter.
Fisher was a hard worker who had to pay much of her tuition and housing fees herself while getting her degree, but she always made time for her relationships, she said.
“She didn’t care about who you were,” Detwiler said. “She had a tendency to get along with everyone.”