Kathryn Hibbs Voit, 80, math teacher

Kathryn Hibbs Voit
Kathryn Hibbs Voit
Posted: March 26, 2012

Kathryn Hibbs Voit, 80, of Cheltenham, a math educator and advocate for patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, died of the disease Thursday, March 8, at home.

Mrs. Voit taught math at the Community College of Philadelphia for 20 years, until 2001.

She was diagnosed in 1998 with ALS, a degenerative disease of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement.

Mrs. Voit continued to teach for three years, using a cane, then a walker, and finally a motorized wheelchair, her husband, Gerard A. Voit, said.

In 2002, the Voits cochaired the first Walk to Defeat ALS, which drew 800 participants. Last year, 4,500 joined the walk at Citizen's Bank Park, with donations of $575,000.

For more than a decade, Mrs. Voit and her husband served on the board of the ALS Association of Greater Philadelphia.

"Kathryn conducted herself as if ALS was just a minor irritant," association president Ellyn Phillips wrote in a tribute. "Nothing deterred her. Traveling, dancing the limbo with her grandchildren at our annual holiday party, writing poetry, creating ceramics, attending committee and board meetings, Kathryn was a full participant."

As Mrs. Voit became less mobile, she used a computer to communicate. Over time, her tools changed. She started with a mouse, moved to voice recognition, and finally used a pointer on her nose to select letters on a computer screen.

Letter by letter, she wrote 60 poems.

In 2010, she wrote the verse, "She is/ As is/ Beyond good or bad/ Beyond happy or sad/ Life full/ Love now."

In an accompanying essay, she said, "When I have an itch that I can't scratch, I repeat my mantra, 'As is.' "

In July, Mrs. Voit wrote the poem "Touch," which included this verse: "Those sitting in wheelchairs/ May be yearning for an embrace/ If hesitant, just ask/ Then, watch their face."

The poem ends with the lines, "Thrill to tactile sensation/ And give it generously/ There are people near at hand/ Who need touch desperately."

Mrs. Voit grew up in Northeast Philadelphia and graduated from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Flourtown. She earned a bachelor's degree from Chestnut Hill College in 1958 and a master's degree in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1960. She then taught math at St. Joseph's University until the birth of her first child in 1961.

While raising her family, Mrs. Voit volunteered in Art Goes to School, an art-appreciation program. She also volunteered at Friends Hospital in Philadelphia and was a math tutor for students from Father Judge High School.

In 1976, she returned to teaching as a part-time instructor at Pennsylvania State University, Ogontz. She then taught at Peirce Junior College before joining the Community College of Philadelphia faculty.

"Her joy was to work with people in remedial math classes," her husband said. "Often she later met former students in their everyday life as nurses, lab technicians, and other professions. They often thanked her for her part in what they became."

She and her husband, a retired Bell Atlantic executive, had been married since 1960. They met at a swimming pool during a social gathering for Catholic college graduates.

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Voit is survived by sons Gerard, Eric, and Timothy; a daughter, Regina Baime; and 10 grandchildren.

Services will be private.

Donations may be made to the ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter, 321 Norristown Rd., Suite 260, Ambler, Pa. 19002.

Contact Sally A. Downey

at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

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