Jamie Kirk Hahn was a helper. Not yet 30, she was one of the state's most sought-after political fundraisers, but that doesn't tell you why she was so beloved. She was passionate about her causes, and that gets closer to it.
A better explanation starts with the way she and her husband Nation Hahn kept an open house for so many friends and fellow progressives. "When in doubt, have a party," Jamie liked to say. But then, as extroverted politicos poured in, Jamie would focus her attentions on the shy guest, or the new person who didn't know anyone. She was generous that way. Her generosity was boundless.
Food was one of Jamie's causes. She'd started a blog called "Our Healthy Ever After," writing about healthy eating and how unfair it is that people in poor communities don't have access to quality grocery stores.
Her last post, on April 18, talked about her mistake of equating healthy with skinny. As she learned more—and after a friend was diagnosed with cancer—she'd come to understand that health wasn't about outward appearances. It was about keeping your "insides" happy and disease-free.
"So as is my nature ... I immediately went into overdrive in my 'how can we fix this' mode," Jamie wrote. "I am on a mission to do everything possible to not only prevent us from getting [cancer] but to help our friends (read: family) who are facing this get better!"
She and Nation were celebrating their fourth wedding anniversary and they were making some changes. "We have now recommitted ourselves to our own personal health, but also to being better spouses, better friends to ourselves and others, and committed to our 'FAMILIES' (if you know anything about us you know that extends to way more than moms, dads, aunts, uncles and cousins!!) that we will all be living 'Healthy Ever After.'"
Four days later, on April 22, Jamie was attacked at home before Nation could rush in from another room to save her. She died two days later. The alleged killer was a friend with a knife, apparently in the grip of a mental breakdown.
Her murder rocked everyone in North Carolina who knew of Jamie and Nation. Hundreds came to the vigil before she died, and to a memorial service after. From the rising generation of leaders on whom our state will depend, a radiant star was gone.
It's no exaggeration to say, as Durham attorney and former U.S. Senate candidate Ken Lewis does, that Jamie Hahn's death may prove "a seminal event" for this cohort of young Democrats in North Carolina—a terrible time they'll never forget that will help shape the rest of their lives.
We try to find meaning in tragedy. Jamie's life was cut short, but she left us a clear set of causes that others must carry forward with her in our hearts. Thus, Lewis, whose 2010 campaign began when he hired Jamie, has stepped up as a founding board member of the Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation, which will launch in Raleigh this weekend on what would have been Jamie's 30th birthday.
Chris Sgro, who worked with Jamie and Nation on Kay Hagan's winning 2008 U.S. Senate campaign, is also a founding member. Sgro is executive director of Equality NC, a gay rights advocacy organization. It recently recognized Jamie's work in the anti-Amendment 1 campaign by renaming its annual ally award for her.
Jamie matched her strong convictions with all-out effort. "It's the level of passion," Sgro says. Her convictions are the basis of the new foundation. She believed in equal rights for women and LGBT people and equal opportunity for all. She believed that the key to opening doors for the disadvantaged is leadership development, especially in low-income communities—identifying and mentoring young people who have the potential to lead, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
"Helping the helpers" is one way the foundation puts it.
"[It's] bringing leadership training to those who wouldn't ordinarily have access" to the power structures of government, the nonprofit world and business, Sgro says. "And putting those who do have access in contact with the new leaders we're helping."
Her convictions are the basis, but it's Jamie's passion and generosity—and her view of a healthy society as our extended family—that inspired a long list of Raleigh and Triangle leaders who came together to create the foundation. "It really speaks to the way Jamie's vision resonates with people of all ages and at every level," Lewis says.
No one can replace Jamie Hahn, Sgro says, or do the work she would have done. "But there are a whole lot of us who are trying."
A personal note: I see this as a seminal event not just for the rising generation but for everyone in Raleigh and the Triangle. We are the capital city and the linchpin region of a state where community bonds are broken and generosity is too often mocked, too little practiced. The work of this foundation is a chance to redeem ourselves and start to make things right.
We lost Jamie, but we still have Nation, who is back in Raleigh to stay and who will be at every event this weekend. He didn't want to be interviewed. We've talked a number of times since April, and I can say that he's a strong person with the same generous spirit who is doing as well as can be expected. Nation will be an integral part of the foundation's work, which will help him heal, and us too.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A way forward from tragedy."