Jill Dunham and Kathy French at a catering gig.
Tennessee-born Kathy French would have loved to regale me (and in turn, you) with stories of classic Memphis cuisine and blues music, but she was a Memphis resident for only about five minutes. In fact, as part of a military family, it wasn’t long before a relatively newborn Kathy was whisked out of Tennessee and onto a steamship bound for London. She only spent a couple of years there before again pulling up stakes to follow her family to North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Rhode Island.
Though she cherishes the rich military history and lifestyle of the daughter of an embassy-based marine, she became most attached to Rhode Island. Her grandfather and father were both stationed at the now-closed Quonset Point Naval Air Station, and even more importantly, that’s where her brother was born. “So I adopted ‘The Ocean State’ as my home,” smiles Kathy. She went on to explain that even though many states border an ocean, the smallest state in the U.S. actually sports over 400 miles of coastline including Narragansett Bay. At only 48 miles north to south and 37 miles east to west, no Rhode Islander is more than 30 minutes away from the coast. That bit of aquatic trivia might explain how, many years later, she was drawn to Delaware.
Kathy got married in her 20s, giving rise to two sons, Bill and Jason. No stranger to travel and relocation, she and her family lived in Hawaii, and even spent five years in Germany. But when they returned home to Rhode Island, her 15-year marriage was over. Undeterred, her sons proceeded to distinguish themselves: Bill, after a short stint in the military, went to college and graduated as a pediatric physician assistant. His wife is an R.N. and they live in San Antonio with their three children. His younger brother Jason is a command sergeant major, stationed with the army in Williamsburg, Va. Interestingly enough, his wife is a nurse practitioner and they also have three kids. Grandma (Oh, I’ll pay for that…) has a whole lot to be proud of!
After her sons graduated college, she moved to California with her first female partner, beginning a career as an administrator at a regional office of the Federal Trade Commission. As a field employee with the FTC, Kathy was expected to be resourceful; a “Jill of all trades,” if you will. Given her peripatetic life, she was uniquely qualified to assume that role. They lived on the West Coast for 14 years.
She might still be there had her mother not become ill, precipitating Kathy’s return to Rhode Island. A close friend and mentor in the FTC suggested she apply for an investigative position in nearby Washington, D.C. Lo and behold, she got the job. She and her partner eventually moved to Virginia, where she has remained ever since. Needless to say, there was a lot of commuting as she was building her career, but she doesn’t regret even one minute of it. “I love working for the FTC,” she tells me. In fact, as a small, independent agency (meaning that it has independent litigation authority to enforce consumer statutes), government employees named the FTC as one of the top five federal agencies to work for.
Kathy’s career centers on the Do Not Call Registry (aimed at unscrupulous telemarketers) and the Consumer Response Center that routes consumer complaints to appropriate law enforcement. Kathy is proud to have been on the ground floor of the team that centralized the functions of the agencies to help create these forward-facing services.
Of course I couldn’t resist asking her why I still get nuisance calls though I dutifully registered my phone numbers. “A lot of telemarketers are breaking the law,” she said. But she reminded me that many consumers ignore or overlook fine print that gives banks, credit card and finance companies permission to contact them. So not as many are scofflaws as we might believe. It’s up to the consumer to follow-through to ensure privacy and to report actual violators to the proper authorities.
Kathy lives with her partner of 12 years, Jill Dunham. Jill manages the budget for the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Like so many people about whom I’ve had the pleasure of writing, they also discovered Rehoboth Beach after hightailing it northward from the Outer Banks. “We just didn’t feel comfortable there.” Join the club.
Kathy and Jill speak reverently of Deb Griffin, the Realtor through whom they purchased their first house here at the beach. In fact, they count Deb and her lovely partner Greer among their closest friends. When they finally move here full-time, Jill looks forward to performing accounting and tax work here in Rehoboth Beach, while Kathy channels her inner chef through her fledgling catering operation, “Tarabella.” “I love preparing seasonal, fresh bruschettas, one-of-a-kind dipping sauces, seasonal seafood entrees and pastas.” I’ve had her bruschetta, and it’s sublime. Those of us lucky enough to know these women need to convince them to move here full-time as soon as they possibly can.
Bob Yesbek is a Rehoboth Beach resident. Email Bob Yesbek