Karen  Hamilton

Obituary of Karen Anne Hamilton

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Karen Anne Hamilton

Karen Anne Hamilton—a fiery, independent, smart, tender-hearted, loving spirit—left this life on September 6, 2022, dying peacefully at home with her family in Austin, Texas.

She is survived by her parents, Janet Lain Hamilton and Eric Hartman; by her sister, Lauren Levy, and brother-in-law, Mark Levy; by her nephew, Aaron H. Levy, and niece, Sophie Levy; by her uncle, Bill Hamilton; and by many cousins and loving friends. She was preceded in death last November by her husband, Samuel Rhodes.

Karen was born on April 27, 1962, in the tiny Texas town of Morton, west of Lubbock near the New Mexico line. Health challenges began early, and so did Karen’s determination not to be limited by them. A typical moment:  This fragile little girl climbed all the way to the top of a tall sycamore in her Austin backyard and called out to her mother, “Look at me!” Her mom, quelling her anxiety, replied, “How’s the view up there?” Karen liked that view all her life, out there on the unconventional edge of the envelope.

Karen grew up in Austin and sojourned in Houston but also lived in Maryland near Washington, DC, in Denver, and in Phoenix. Her eagerness for adventure took her motorcycling in the mountains, bungee-jumping from high bridges, journeying to Costa Rica, Mexico, and Spain, and ultimately on a move to Anchorage via the Alaska Highway for what turned into a 16-year stay. She and husband Sam traveled all over Alaska until her lifelong nemesis, incurable Type 1 diabetes that had afflicted her since childhood, asserted itself more and more.

In college Karen discovered a talent for economics and math, and she put that aptitude to good use in a cause she cared deeply about, working as a benefit specialist for the Texas Federation of Teachers. TFT members and fellow staffers soon got used to the little woman with the big presence and big voice touting the benefits of union membership to everyone within earshot. She later did similar work in Alaska for another public-employee union, AFSCME Local 52.

There was nothing bland or softspoken about Karen. She took a stand and stood her ground, whether anybody liked it or not, on everything from “reality” TV shows (for which she offered sardonic running commentary), to the pros and cons of diabetes treatment innovations, to matters of high politics. Karen’s family and friends (and pets!) got to see another side of her, too, though—the tender heart and sweetness of one who made it clear she loved them dearly and knew she was dearly beloved in return.

Karen had a special feeling for the Texas Hill Country west of Austin—her idea of a heavenly evening was a spring night of Texas music and barbecue at some iconic Hill Country venue--so at some point there will be a family gathering in her honor out that way. Meanwhile there will be a public memorial celebration of Karen’s life on Sunday, October 9, 2022, at 3 pm, in the Becky Moeller Auditorium of the Texas AFL-CIO, at 1106 Lavaca Street in downtown Austin. (Those who wish to honor Karen with a charitable donation are encouraged to give to Austin Pets Alive!)

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