Remembering ‘That’ Smile

Click Here to see a Video of her parents

By Julie Hannon Alumni Coordinator

Kathy Yancey Laborie died the way she lived – fulfilling a dream. "I get peace from knowing she was doing something she loved," said Flo Yancey of her only daughter. "Kathy just loved aviation and flying. She had made it her life career." 

The Spring 1978 alumna was a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 175 bound from Boston to Los Angeles September 11th when the Boeing 767 was hijacked by terrorists and slammed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Fifty-six passengers, two pilots and six other flight attendants were also killed in the crash. 

The deliberate collision has been replayed on television hundreds, if not thousands of times. "We tried not to see it, of course," said Kathy’s father Gene Yancey about a week after the attack at a news conference in Kathy’s hometown of Colorado Springs, Co. "It just conjures up the worst thing that’s ever happened to us, ever. The holes in our hearts are just too large."

But the Yancey’s say they don’t mind that their grief has become public. It gives them a chance to tell the world about their first born. "That smile of hers, it got you every time. She was adventurous and gregarious, always wanting to be around people and trying new things," said Gene, who retired from the Air Force in 1973.

Kathy’s shipmates also fondly recalled her trademark smile. "While obviously a lot of years have passed since we sailed together, I remember her well. I remember her love of people and the fact that she always wore a smile," a shipboard friend wrote in email upon learning of Kathy’s death. "This world lost one of the good ones."

More than 1,200 people, many of them strangers, joined the Yancey’s September 21 to celebrate Kathy’s life at a public memorial service at Holy Apostle Catholic Church in Colorado Springs. The outpouring of love has helped the Yancey’s find peace. 

"We have gotten literally hundreds of cards and letters thanking us for celebrating her life, for allowing them to share in our grief. Many of those who sent their sympathy did not even know Kathy. It really is amazing," said Flo, who added her daughter’s love of travel flourished after Semester at Sea. "We were a military family so we lived a number of places including Hawaii. When she realized the opportunity of Semester at Sea existed, she quickly took advantage of it. She never stopped traveling, she loved it, and always talked of India and her visit there," said Flo, who has asked all media outlets to include Kathy’s maiden name in stories written about her so that shipmates around the country will recognize her shipboard name.

Kathy was born March 14, 1957 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She graduated from Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs in 1975, attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs for two years before earning a scholarship to Denver University, where she traveled on SAS. Kathy earned a marketing and business degree and later campaigned for Colorado Republican candidates.

Gene talked of his daughter’s big brown eyes, her love of skydiving and her job as vicedirector of aviation at the Front Range Airport in Denver. He said Kathy later followed her first husband Bill Schultz to Tampa, Fl. and joined a cruise line as a marketing director. Wanting to fly, six years ago she decided to train as a flight attendant. United hired her and she was based in Boston and routinely worked the Boston to Los Angeles and San Francisco flights.

Because Kathy always shared her flight schedules with her mother, Flo knew immediately her daughter was working in first class on that fateful flight on the 11th of September. First hearing only that the plane was unaccounted for, Flo called Kathy’s cell phone. There was nothing but silence.

At that moment, Flo said she knew her daughter was gone. "I just went numb," Flo said. "I knew before the airline called to tell us about 40 minutes later. I knew because she would have called if she could."

On October 21, Kathy would have been married to Eric Laborie two years. The couple lived in Boston. In addition to her husband and parents, Kathy is survived by brothers, Mark and Kevin Yancey, both of Colorado Springs; sisters-in-law, Lynette and Yvonne; and nephews, Matthew and Joshua.

Semester at Sea wishes to thank Flo and Gene Yancey for their generous gift to the Annual Fund in memory of their daughter and other shipmates lost in this tragedy. Gifts can be sent to the Kathryn Yancey Laborie Memorial Fund, c/o Father Paul, Holy Apostles Catholic Church, 4925 N. Carefree Circle, Colorado Springs, Co. 80917.

Denver Post Southern Colorado Bureau

Saturday, September 22, 2001 - COLORADO SPRINGS - On the morning of Sept. 11, Eric LaBorie phoned his wife with a wakeup call.

"Get to work," he told her. "Get home to me soon."

Kathryn Yancey LaBorie promised she would be home soon. She dashed off to work as a flight attendant on United Airlines Flight 175, a Boston-to-Los Angeles flight.

Before he hung up, LaBorie told his wife of two years that he loved her. A few hours later, the Boeing 767 carrying 56 passengers, two pilots and six other flight attendants was hijacked by terrorists and crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center. At a memorial service Friday in Colorado Springs, Eric LaBorie urged people to take the opportunity to tell others you love them.

"I never missed an opportunity to tell Kathryn that I loved her," said Eric LaBorie. "And I don't care if it is a friend or a neighbor, tell them, . . . because you never know."

About 1,200 people - including at least 200 flight attendants, gate agents and pilots from United Airlines and American Airlines - packed Holy Apostles Catholic Church on Friday to celebrate Kathryn LaBorie's 44 years of life. A photograph of LaBorie was on the altar, surrounded by bouquets of red roses.

Her parents, Gene and Flo Yancey, had made it clear that they wanted the service to be public, and they invited the community to share their memories of their daughter. Representatives from the offices of Sen. Wayne Allard and Rep. Joel Hefley came. So did El Paso County Commissioner Ed Jones and Colorado Springs City Councilwoman Margaret Radford. Police officers and firefighters from Colorado Springs came in uniform with a strip of black tape across their badges.

Kathryn LaBorie graduated in 1975 from Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs. She attended the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs for two years, spent a year sailing around the world on the "Semester at Sea" ship and graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in marketing and business.

After working on a gubernatorial campaign for Ted Strickland, now an Adams County commissioner, LaBorie went to work from 1987 to 1993 as vice director of aviation at Front Range Airport. A few years later, she moved to Florida and joined a cruise line as director of marketing. She had been a flight attendant for United Airlines for seven years.

Tim LaBorie, Eric's father, said he could feel his daughter-in-law's presence in the "caring generosity" shown to him by the United flight crew that comforted him on his Thursday flight to Colorado.

"To the very end, she was on the job," Tim LaBorie said. "Caring for her people, spreading comfort and support, solace and reassurance as they took their final journey home."

Neil Keddington, a retired Air Force colonel who met LaBorie while he was director of Front Range Airport, also honored LaBorie with his words.

"If I had one word for Kathryn, it would be the word "joyful,' " Keddington said. "And now that she has departed, I just bet she is bringing joy to the next brethren."

He said she was "very fussy. I do not mean grouchy fussy, but perfectionist fussy."

Whether she was planning a presentation or organizing an air show, Keddington said, her preparations "could not be just good enough, they had to be just perfect."

Following the service, Keddington, a retired Air Force pilot, said he served 13 months in Vietnam and "a lot of my friends didn't come home."

"Now, an enemy is taking out some more of my friends and I'm angry. I want to do as the president says," Keddington said. "We've got to beat them."

By the time United Airlines called, Gene and Flo Yancey of Colorado Springs already knew in their hearts that their only daughter was dead.

Kathryn LaBorie, 42, a flight attendant based out of Boston, worked only two routes: to Los Angeles and to San Francisco.

Her plane, Flight 175 to Los Angeles, was the second to crash Sept. 11 into the World Trade Center.

LaBorie's parents had the television on when it happened.

"I tried to call on her cellphone. It was just silence," her father, Gene Yancey, said Monday. "United called us fairly soon that day, 9:55 a.m. our time, but we knew."

Those who knew LaBorie, a 1975 graduate of Mitchell High School in Colorado Springs, used nearly identical words to describe her.

"She was a vivacious young lady," said Adams County Commissioner Ted Strickland, who met her in 1986 when she worked on his gubernatorial campaign.

"She was just charming and vivacious and a lot of fun," said JoAnn Groff, president of the Colorado Retail Council.

A memorial is scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday at Holy Apostles Catholic Church in Colorado Springs. Survivors include her husband of two years, Eric, her parents and two brothers, Mark and Kevin.

"The theme is a celebration of Kathy's life," Yancey said. "We're going to make it as uplifting as possible."

Yancey, a retired Air Force officer, was stationed in Albuquerque when his daughter was born on March 14, 1957, a day after his wife celebrated her 22nd birthday.

"We always celebrated their birthdays together," Yancey said.

LaBorie was raised in Colorado Springs. After high school she attended the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. She later won a scholarship to the University of Denver.

LaBorie first joined Strickland's campaign as a volunteer, but later became a paid staffer, he said. It was during that time that she met Bill Schultz, the then-director of the retail council. The couple married and later divorced.

"A lot of people in Denver knew her through Bill," Groff said. "I just can't describe how much fun she was."

Strickland said that while flying to campaign stops, Laborie became friendly with the staff at Front Range Airport and went to work there.

LaBorie had worked for United Airlines for nearly seven years.

"She loved to fly," her father said. "There are no words to describe how we feel."