By the family
Oct. 14, 2020: Karen Holbrook Steward was someone who enjoyed living life to the fullest.
She was born Karen Sue Holbrook to Rose and Everett Holbrook on October 19th, 1959, in Jackson, Kentucky. She moved to Ohio, where she served as Student Council President at Xenia High School, and it was during these years she discovered two of her lifelong passions: tennis and travel. Karen attended Northwestern University to study psychology and, although she didn't realize it at the time, met her future husband, John Steward, her very first day there. Determined to see the world, she spent her junior year studying in England, at Lancaster University, and started her teapot collection.
After graduating from Northwestern in 1982 (and finally starting to date John), she went on to work for IRI in Chicago before heading to Kellogg Business School to earn her Masters in Marketing. From there, she joined John on the east coast, starting a new adventure working for Johnson & Johnson Baby Products. John & Karen married in 1986 and spent the next few years enjoying married life, friends, and their careers while living in New Jersey. In 1989, they welcomed their first child, Samuel Clinton Steward, and Karen jumped straight into the life of a working mother, loving every minute of it (except for maybe the spit up stains down the back of her suits).
Never one to pass up a new adventure, Karen was excited to move with John to Germany with American Express despite being six months pregnant with daughter Anna, and not speaking a word of German. After two years living in the picturesque village of Königstein, they moved to Wimbledon outside of London, where Karen not only reconnected with friends and her love of tennis but also made many new friends through both the American Women's Club and her daily attempt to steer rowdy puppy Beau through Wimbledon Village.
The next chapter took John and Karen to Hong Kong, where she took full advantage of the expat lifestyle (AKA adult summer camp) joining numerous tennis leagues, helping at the kids' schools, traveling across Asia, and, of course, weekend cocktails and excursions to the outlying islands. Amazingly, she pulled all this off and never missed picking the kids up at the bus stop. Summers were magical, spending time at Karen's parents' home in rural Kentucky and exploring the mountains around Breckenridge.
After four years, it was off to Sydney, leaving the expat world for the beautiful Eastern Suburbs and brilliant views from an amazing home on the harbor. There were adjustments to be made: strange wildlife, much of which could kill you, baking Christmas pies in your bathing suit at 90 degrees, and 27 piece school uniforms. That said, Karen adjusted brilliantly, founding a book club that is still running today, adopting a naughty but lovable farm dog named Poppy, and taking up golf with the ladies.
In 2004 Karen steered the family back to the US and Bronxville, NY, so that Sam could start high school in the US. Karen, true to form, established an amazing group of friends through tennis and paddle at the Field Club, a new book club, and volunteering. Once she got the kids off to college (and things calmed down considerably in the house), John and Karen were off again. The destination was London, but this time it was all about world class theatre, romantic dinners, travel in Europe, and historic walking tours (really). And of course, more great friends through all of the above.
Finally, the time came to leave Amex and return to the US —this time to Boulder, Colorado. The timing was good because Karen wanted to spend more and more time in Florida with her mother, Rose. In Boulder, Karen once again made an incredible group of friends and tennis sisters through literally hundreds of tennis teams, Backroads cycling trips, bookclub, and theatre — plus the new addition of open water swimming, cycling, and triathlons to her repertoire. All of this made it that much more of a shock when she was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer in March of 2018. Karen threw herself at this as she would any other challenge. She did all the research, consulted all the specialists, visited leading hospitals across the country, and suffered through almost fifty chemo treatments. All the while, she continued to enjoy life, spend time with friends and family, play tennis, and travel the world.
Of all the places Karen went throughout her life — India, Bali, the Galapagos, Belize, Egypt, Japan, New Zealand — ultimately, she was happiest at home, and it was at home, surrounded by her family, that she passed on September 23rd, 2020. She is survived by her husband of 34 years, John Steward, daughter, Anna, son, Sam, daughter-in-law, Chelsea, mother, Rose Holbrook, and brother Philip Holbrook. Despite her formidable list of experiences and accomplishments, she is remembered most for her warmth, generosity, sharp wit, quiet determination, positivity, and fun-loving adventurous spirit.