Remembering Kareen Burns, a woman of “eclectic good cheer”

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Kareen Burns liked to call herself a “gracefully evolving woman of eclectic good cheer”, and she was, but it didn’t begin to describe her indomitable spirit, her dedication to promoting the local arts community, her passion and compassion, and her remarkable ability to befriend seemingly everyone she met.

The outpouring of comments on the days before and day of her death on June 2 reflected how much she had touched those who knew her.

Kareen was a tireless volunteer, giving many hours to local organizations in support of the arts, including Hunters Bay Radio, where she hosted a weekly show ‘K on the Bay’, and Huntsville Festival of the Arts. She and two other local women, Diane Thoms and Suzanne Riverin, coordinated the installation of a public art piece – a mural of a vintage photo – on Huntsville’s swing bridge. She was an compassionate supporter of those impacted by cancer. These are just a few examples of her desire to contribute to her adopted home of Huntsville.

Kareen Burns holds up the photo of Gordon and Maxine Thoms that was used for the installation

Last fall, she hosted a deeply personal art show, The Tiffany Stones: Portraits of Rugged Individuals, which featured photographs of people holding stones that Kareen had gifted to them “for love, support, admiration, and respect.” She had collected the stones from the shores of her homeland of Scotland.

Photo: Anna Gaby-Trotz

Photo: Anna Gaby-Trotz

Hunters Bay Radio founder Jeff Carter said that Kareen was the first volunteer to take on a show for the station in early 2010, and had done more than 350 shows.

“We got to know each other quite well. I felt like she was an older sister to me,” said Jeff. “She was determined that her show would carry on without interruption – that’s how dedicated she was. She loved HBR and loved the people. I don’t know quite what we are going to do without her. The community has lost a very special person.”

At her request, HBR played Kareen’s myTunes broadcast instead of her regular show on June 2, which was taped several weeks prior to her death, and which she called “Kareen’s Death Music”. It was filled with the songs that were important to her.

“I had the sense when I met her yesterday that she had this all planned out,” said Jeff. “It was a very emotional broadcast for us. It was magic. It was what she wanted.”

About the music, Kareen said during the recorded broadcast, “I like what I like, and I wanted people to know this is what I liked.This is me… These are the special songs. It’s my life music, yes… Life is a journey to death. Who knows what happens after that.”

She’d survived cancer before, she told listeners, and added that “death is not a scary word for me anymore. It’s going to happen to us all.”

The songs she played were an eclectic mix true to her personality, including “Love is Like a Red Red Rose” which is attributed to Scottish poet Rabbie Burns, “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison, “A House or Maybe a Boat” by local musician Hawksley Workman, and a rendition of “A Garden in the Rain” by Diana Krall. She finished the show with “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. “You look back and you say, well maybe if I’d done this or done that, but I did it my way… There are dark times, I’m not denying that… I keep saying the glass is half full, but it is half full and you have to try so hard. You never know what’s going to happen the next day.”

Kareen was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1945. She died at Hospice Huntsville on June 2, 2017, surrounded by family and friends, as she listened to her own recorded broadcast during the song “Love is Like a Red Red Rose”. Just before it played, she told listeners it is “just such a beautiful, beautiful song and it makes me feel very proud and very Scottish.”

You can hear a rebroadcast of the show on Hunters Bay Radio on Saturday, June 3 at 5 p.m.

There will be a Celebration of Life at On the Docks Pub on Tuesday, June 6 from 6-9 p.m.:
Kareen and her daughter Meghan and family would like all her friends and fellow lovers of the arts to join them for a celebration of her life. We will share our fond memories of Kareen, enjoying the many stories and celebrating with a ‘wee dram’. Should you wish, you can make a donation in Kareen’s memory to the Algonquin Grace Hospice in appreciation of their incredible care, compassion and loving support. 

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48 Comments

  1. Joan Mackinnon on

    Huntsville was lucky to have Kareen choose this small town to make as her final home. Kareen tirelessly worked to make our town a better place for everyone and we will miss her greatly.

  2. Many hearts broke today. You danced to your own Scottish tune Kareen, but, we all danced with you! Rest in peace and, take your own wonderful eclecticy with you wherever you roam. You indeed were a “gracefully evolving woman with eclectic good cheer”. We were all blessed to have known you. Thank you.

  3. Kyra Watters on

    My heart breaks. I will remember her with the fondest of memories. The talk-show that never happened will happen. I promise her.

  4. I’ve much enjoyed my interactions with Kareen over the years, always an independent voice, engaged and interested in all things cultural. Huntsville will miss her and so will I.

  5. Huntsville is all that much richer because we had Kareen – she has left a legacy of herself in all of us. Rest in Peace Kareen – you will be missed by a whole community.

  6. Heather Douglas on

    She certainly was a one of a kind woman. She was a fierce champion of whatever she believed in. Rest in peace Kareen.

  7. Ruth Cassie on

    Sláinte, Kareen, wherever you may be. I have always loved the words B painted on your walls; you, every letter of every word.

  8. It is difficult to imagine Huntsville without Kareen.
    In disbelief, really. Maybe the absence of Kareen’s presence is what the phrase”
    larger than life’ really means.
    It means that she will be in our thoughts and hearts and with us, even still.

  9. Karen Cassian on

    Kareen was larger than life as part of Huntsville’s arts and culture community. She enriched
    the lives of all who met her and will be missed by many. Aw Ra Best Kareen!

  10. Susan Higgins on

    A beautiful spirit. A woman of courage and grace. Bless you dear K. You will be missed by so many.

  11. Cyndi Culbert on

    K on the Bay was an Icon… I will still hear her,… James Carroll? Are the two of you starting a new show? Watch over us!

  12. Sad about her leaving us, glad for her wonderful encouraging presence with us, grateful for hospice, pondering the mystery of death.

  13. Betty Fulton on

    Kareen was a truly wonderful person a friend to everyone she met. We first knew her when she ran Swiss Chalet – very efficiently I might add, as she did everything else in her life. I recall visiting her in hospital when she was experiencing one of her bouts of cancer – she was ALWAYS so upbeat. When she got out of the restaurant business, she had time to take on her true love of the arts, and promoting them strongly in town. Always a smile whenever you met her! Huntsville has lost one of its strongest supporters. Rest in peace Kareen. Thank you Liz for publishing this. I wasn’t aware of Kareen’s death. Whatever would I do without you!

  14. Kareen left an indelible mark on the fabric of the Huntsville Community. She had the courage to stand out from the crowd and stand up for what she believed in. I had huge admiration and respect for her. She will leave a hole in the hearts of many who knew her. Blessings…

  15. Derek Shelly on

    After reading the news of Kareen’s death and listening to her My Tunes on HBR I can honestly say that I have not felt such a profound sadness. I may have been just my own sadness but it seemed like there was something outside in the whole community. What truly wonderful soul she was and is!

  16. Robert Attfield on

    I greatly regret that I wasn’t aware of Kareen’s cancer regression or death until after the fact. The comments already posted tell it all. What else can be added, except to reiterate that Kareen had a beautiful spirit, a genuine warmth, a boatload of creativity and a passion for the things that interested her. Her death will leave a gaping hole in the arts community. She was a Huntsville treasure.

  17. Josephine McClelland on

    Kareen had a beautiful bubbly spirit and I guess they needed her in heaven. I still can’t believe she is gone and feel sad . She was an amazing woman and will be missed so very much. R.I.P. Kareen. Deepest sympathies to your family.

  18. It is hard to read all these comments through this veil of tears. Kareen’s death is a huge blow to Reel Alternatives. She was a force to be reckoned with in our organization and her limitless enthusiasm for our town and the arts is a legacy I’m not sure anyone else can match. We will truly feel her absence. ‘I’ will feel her absence.

    • Susan Lovell on

      Kareen was such an amazing woman to all she ever met. I had the honour of being interviewed by her on K on the Bay once. To my surprise she was more interested in hearing about myself rather than the programs I thought we were going to talk about. She threw me off, asking me about my childhood, what brought me to Huntsville and my family. She looked me right in the eye and asked each question with such great interest and care. Kareen loved people and people responded to her. She was a gem. I am certain many who have been interviewed by her have stories to share. What a lucky town Huntsville was to have her love it as much as it loved her.
      Susan Lovell

  19. Peggy Peterson on

    Kareen has been a consistent smile in the community for ever and will be missed by many, safe travels dear heart.

  20. Tony Clement on

    She was truly an amazing person and will be sorely missed. She was always passionate and interesting to be around. Farewell friend!

  21. Rob Saunders on

    The most unique person I’ve ever had the pleasure of dealing with. To a right brain person, sometimes confusing, occasionally frustrating, but always inspiring and so committed to her vision. The kind of person you had to listen to and be inspired by and who appreciated and encouraged others strengths to allow this vision to move forward. She valued simplicity but also celebrated excellence. One of a kind!

  22. John Rivière-Anderson on

    A fine, spirited, wonderfully creative and courageous person you were, Kareen, and so you remain for all of us, your community. Thanks for everything you’ve given.

  23. Karen Wehrstein on

    (I couldn’t bring myself to use the past tense last night. Just couldn’t. I still can’t entirely believe I’m never going to run into her at some arts thing or at Seven Main or HBR ever again.)

    Kareen… was made out of love and positivity. I always felt she was on my side… she was on everyone’s side.

    The expression you saw most often on her face was that big bright smile, with its touch of impishness.

    She was a champion for everyone and everything creative in this town.

    I’m devastated. Everyone who commented that Huntsville won’t be the same without her is bang on. She was a spot of brightness. We will all need to be a little bit more loving and positive and bright to make up for her loss.

    Enjoy your next adventure, Kareen… well, I know you will, because you always do.

  24. Jane Crockett on

    I am shocked and sad. Huntsville will miss you Kareen, especially seeing you and your gold Jeep with the stunning bows on front. Rest in peace!

  25. When I think of how many different events Kareen was actively involved in over the years, the phrase, “She’s everywhere!” comes to mind. She was an tireless initiator, contributor, and supporter of an incredible variety of community events and causes. I suggest that the Town of Huntsville commission a life sized bronze statue, crafted by – who else? – our own Brenda Wainman Goulet, to be brought to all future social functions and events. She would stand among the crowd, listening with great interest as exciting ideas and plans are discussed. It wouldn’t be the same without her. Thank you Kareen, for all you have done for this town. We miss you.

  26. Christine Rivière-Anderson on

    I cannot think of Huntsville without Kareen. She was ubiquitous and totally determined to make a difference. A courageous and irreplaceable woman, and an inspiration to all of us … We are going to miss her tremendously.

  27. Karen Robinson on

    Huntsville will sorely miss Kareen’s tireless support of the arts in our community. She was a strong and positive force. She will be greatly missed.

  28. I had the pleasure of serving with Kareen on the Sustainability Committee last term of council. We always sat beside each other even though there was no designated seating. We would share a laugh, the Forester, a coffee (so much sugar and lipstick!), and many deep conversations about the goings on around town. She had a spirit that was infectious, a sharp wit and intellect that seem to have it’s own gravity. She honored me with an interview on HBR as well and we became friends, sharing our latest cancer news every time we met. She was a true gem. She will be sorely missed. Rest in peace Kareen.

    • Fran Coleman on

      Tim, Remembering your side chats with Kareen in committee. A classy, one of a kind woman…who truly was an amazing ambassador for Huntsville.Huntsville will continue to be promoted on a much higher level.

  29. Jay Richardson on

    I was blessed to have Kareen as my friend. Through the years Kareen would encourage me to reach higher, do better but always stop and smell the flowers. Our visits sharing a “wee dram” were wonderful. Kareen was Huntsville. She loved this community with all her heart, and in return she was loved. This community will never be the same without our Kazie. Goodbye dear friend. Safe journey.

  30. Kathleen Miller on

    Eclectic, sassy, mysterious, up front, positive, creative and beautiful. Kareen put her heart into everything and lived life. May you and Angus rock on , and may your days ahead be filled with peace and light. You left all you touched with a special memory.

  31. We shall forget her not, one of my greatest pleasures was to hear that Scottish Lady say my name as only she could as she hooked me into yet another one of her plans to make this town more fun. Until we meet again, have fun with James.

  32. Norm Miller on

    Kareen was one of a kind and will be greatly missed. It was a pleasure to get to know her the past number of years, and see all the projects she was involved with.

  33. Kirsty Williamson on

    What can I say Kareen? You will be missed and yet you will be everywhere!
    Cheers my friend.

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