Kathy Jo “KJ Surf” Smith Fulcher, passed away peacefully on Thursday, March 10th, 2022, at the Crystal Coast Hospice House in Newport, NC. Kathy Jo was wrapped in love and support in her final days on earth.
Kathy Jo Smith Fulcher was born as Florence Margaret Codd in Dublin Ireland on September 11, 1948. Kathy Jo was one of many children adopted by Air Force Service Members who were stationed in England. She was raised by her adoptive parents in the United States. With the help of her grandson, she fulfilled a lifelong dream of finding her birth family in Ireland. Her cousin Margaret Driver was more than a cousin, she was like a sister to Kathy Jo. They spent many hours facetiming sharing stories. Kathy Jo never wanted to disconnect first from the call and Margaret would give the thumbs up that she would be the first one to disconnect. To know Kathy Jo, you know that she craved to know her Irish heritage and Kathy Jo’s family is forever grateful that Margaret gave this peace and sense of belonging to her.
In 2001, she graduated from East Carolina University earning a Bachelor of Science in Communication and a Bachelor of Science in English with a concentration in Electronic News. She went on to earn a Master of Science Degree in Instructional Technology in 2003.
In 2003, Kathy Jo participated in a summer internship with the U.S. Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. This school primarily trains and educates Army personnel for the Special Operations Command, which includes Special Forces, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations personnel. During her short time with the agency, Kathy Jo developed several online classes for soldiers who needed training in the field. This curriculum had to be precise and easy to follow as there were no live teachers and all learning was online. Kathy Jo was able to have an impact on many soldiers and her curriculum was used many times long after Kathy Jo moved on.
In 2004, Kathy Jo worked with the National Defense University in Washington DC, there she designed distance learning curriculum for military members.
Over the years, Kathy Jo was determined to be a part of making the Down East community stronger. In 1972, she coached the first track team in Atlantic NC. She used donated materials and measured a running track around Atlantic so the kids could train. In an interview for the Smithsonian, she gave her reason for training the kids as “It’s how they are raised down there, they are raised not to stop.” Kathy Jo carried this with her for a lifetime to never stop and to never give up. She taught many to swim, how to apply for a job, how to dribble a basketball, how to make the shot from the three-point line. She coached many teams and when they were all grown up, she didn’t stop believing in them. She found joy in watching them become adults and cheered them on when they became parents or got a new job or even when they overcame some type of adversity. Some of her favorite memories in her life were the conversations or visits from these young people.
Kathy Jo was a strong advocate for persons with disabilities. She lived in the Town of Swansboro and worked tirelessly with the elected officials to obtain funding for sidewalks for the town. In July of 2021, the Mayor of Swansboro hosted a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for the new sidewalks and Kathy Jo was honored for her hard work on this project.
The truest joy of Kathy Jo’s life was her grandson Garrett, or as she called him “The Boy”. There was no greater love for her. She was so incredibly proud of everything he’s accomplished. She was on the sideline of every sport or academic event. This die-hard ECU Pirate even donned an NC State baseball cap and sweatshirt from time to time because that was where he attended undergrad. The greatest day of the week for Kathy Jo was Sunday, because this was her day with Garrett. They watched any sport they could and discussed literature and sometimes just got on their phones and just sat together. Kathy Jo loved to go on adventures with Garrett and their fondest memories together were of the days spent at the beach. Garrett organized one last trip to the beach in September for his grandmother’s birthday. The Atlantic Beach Fire Department helped make this special time possible. They got the wheelchair out and got her to the ocean, where she dangled her feet and held “The Boy’s” hand. She often spoke of the peace that washed over her that day. The title of Dandaw, Grandma and Gmaw was her highest honor. Many of the young people still contacted Gmaw and would ask for advice or just check in on her.
Some of Kathy Jo’s most enjoyable moments were the ones she shared with her “framily”, she loved her adventures with her best friend Mark. They would go to Wilmington and spend the day eating lunch and may even have a carriage ride or find a straw hat. Friends like Tami and Charlotte always brought a smile to her face with their conversations and even though they lived miles apart they never let distance stop the love they had for each other, and their conversations would take them right back to high school. There were many special people in Kathy Jo’s life. Leroy was a friend from ECU who she loved like a son. She beamed when she spoke of how proud she was of him. He was more than a friend he was a son to her. Steven, to Kathy Jo was a brilliant, and kind person. She believed in him and on her last good day she told him just that. She loved him and always wanted him to try his best to reach for the stars. Scott was more than a relative, Scott was one of those kids that is now all grown up, who Kathy Jo coached in basketball, she spent many hours telling stories of the basketball team and the players, but Scott was her heart and she wanted him to always know how proud she was of him. Lou and Rossi, well you never saw Kathy Jo at Ekklesia without her dearest friends Lou and Rossi. There was no better day than when they could sit outside and laugh until their sides were hurting. They loved a pizza party and spent time telling each other stories about their life. They shared a bond of the truest friendships and in her last days they didn’t get to sit outside but they all gathered around Kathy Jo’s bed and would keep the laughter going.
Kathy Jo had a wonderful sense of humor loved sharks and when she made the decision to transfer to hospice, she asked that her shark pillowcase went with her. Her dear friend Charlotte would surprise Kathy with the latest shark items to help uplift her spirits and the last thing she sent was duffel bag to take to her blood transfusions, Kathy Jo thought that was fitting and was so tickled by this.
To know Kathy Jo is to know that she loved her family fiercely, and her family loved her fiercely right back. She leaves a tremendous emptiness behind for each of them that will never be filled. She is survived by her daughter, Heather Carpenter of Beaufort, Guy Carpenter her favorite son in law (her words for him) (she never called him by only one name) of Beaufort she said in a final note that “she loved him with all of her heart”, and the center of her world Garrett Chase Carpenter also of Beaufort. She also leaves behind several dear friends that she loved and thought of as family to include Mark, Tami, Charlotte, Leroy, Steven, Scott, Lou and Rossi.
Kathy Jo’s daughter found this note on her phone and wanted to share her words, “My last parting words are these, life is short, enjoy it while you can because before you know it, you’ll be at the end of it.” She went on to say, “I pray that I will see you all in heaven someday and beg that you would do kind things for each other and be respectful of others.” To Tami, Sonya and Abi for helping Kathy Jo find her path to salvation, the family will forever be in your debt. The peace you gave her in knowing her heavenly father is something that will always be the most incredible gift.
The family of Kathy Jo would like to thank everyone for their love and support during her illness. The outpouring of love has been humbling and truly appreciated. A special thank you for the Friendly Transport Team for taking Kathy Jo on her final ride to the Hospice House. Your act of kindness and the compassion you showed will never be forgotten. The kindness of so many nurses and CNAs were so appreciated with special prayers for Rebecca, Hayley, Miss Julia, Zoe, Makayla, Janelda, Pam, Sierra, Linda, Mary, Winnie, Diane, Kara, David, Laurie Beth to name a few of the very dedicated workers who were kind and compassionate on this journey.
It was Kathy Jo’s final wish to forgo a traditional memorial service. On her last day sitting up and talking she spent the day in true Kathy Jo form. She said that she had one final wish and that was for her memory to be carried on through feeding the residents of Ekklesia a meal. She wanted them to have a fellowship of love and remembrance. She didn’t want anyone to be sad but only to rejoice and enjoy each other’s company.
In lieu of flowers, it was Kathy Jo’s wish to have any donations go directly to the Ekklesia Recreation fund to purchase bingo prizes. The prizes usually consist of items like laundry detergent, lotion, toilet paper, dryer sheets etc. The “luxury items” as they call them are those that may go above what is affordable with a fixed income. Kathy Jo was a laundry detergent hoarder; she would hang on to the detergent and give it to a person who helped clean the apartments so that others could have clean clothes. So, it is no wonder that this was her final wish.
This private celebration and gathering will take place on Friday, March 25, 2022, at 12 noon. The family will be gathering items and hopes to be able to give a small gift to each of the 104 residents at Ekklesia. If you feel led to help with this project, please contact Heather Carpenter via messenger on Facebook or email her at email@example.com to find out how to donate to this project.
Arrangements by Munden Funeral Home & Crematory in Morehead City, NC. Family and friends are welcome to submit online condolences at www.mundenfuneralhome.net.