Kirby Sarah Weinstein Capen

4 May 1983-30 January 2012


Kirby Sarah Weinstein Capen, 28, died at home Monday afternoon, January 30th in Washington, DC with a parent holding each hand and surrounded by love. She had, under the influence of a particularly Savage and merciless Cancer, been leaving us for five months but now the departure is irrefutable.


Kirby was born May 4th, 1983, in Washington, DC, first child of Judith Capen and Robert Weinstein. She was so fantastic she was joined by Owen Weinstein six years later. She was raised on Capitol Hill, eight blocks from the US Capitol, and attended local private and public schools, graduating third in her class from DCPS magnet School Without Walls Senior High School in 2002, another formative institution in her life. School Without Walls helped her know she could be very successful and introduced her to realities about the District of Columbia her previous relatively privileged life hadn’t.


As a high school junior, Kirby lived in Ghana, West Africa for six months as an AFS exchange student, adding her host family in Kumasi to her family circle. Her time in Ghana was important to her: she truly believed in the AFS mission of world peace through cultural exchange. Africa acquired a place in her heart. She returned three more times during college including once to work at the Bechem School for the Deaf under a Smith College Praxis Grant and once as a grant recipient in the inaugural year of the 100 Grants for Peace Program, fostering cross-cultural accord using her beading skills working with high school students.


Temple Micah was her first and last spiritual home. It is the institution that shaped her deep Jewish identity and was an important part of Kirby’s life and community in DC. Her faith traveled with her to college and throughout life.


After high school graduation, Kirby used a gap year to take art classes including photography, silver working, pottery, glass fusing, and jewelry making at the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, Virginia; Glen Echo; and Montgomery College. She continued to develop her business, Kirbead, and worked at Washington, DC bead store Beadazzled.


Kirby attended Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts, earning her B.S. in engineering as well as a minor in art, May 2007. Smith College was an institution that shaped her, inspired her, helped her grow, and provided her with four fantastic years. When she visited during her college search she said, “This is the college of my dreams.” She lived in and adored Morrow House and was active member of Hillel and the ASL table as a Smithie. She was well known and loved on campus, often seen on her bike heading to class or riding home late from the library. She spent a semester studying at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.


Kirby had hoped to be well enough to attend her five-year Smith College reunion and ten-year School Without Wall reunion this spring. Instead, classmates from both schools brought came to her in her last months.


After college, Kirby moved to New York City where she worked for PowerCon, consulting engineers, doing energy audits and increasing energy efficiency in a range of building types. She said she was saving the world one kilowatt at a time and developed an enthusiasm for boiler rooms. She cultivated many friendships in New York including close ones with Smithies, co-workers, and others. She had just begun what promised to be a great new job with Steven Winters Association before her cancer diagnosis in September 2011 when she returned to Washington and her family.


Kirby had her own devils to fight: although some friends never knew it, she had a significant language-based learning disability that made reading, writing, and foreign languages extraordinarily difficult for her. But she proceeded in life finding work-arounds, like taking American Sign Language (ASL) in high school at Gallaudet University to fulfill her foreign language requirement, going to English-speaking Ghana with AFS, going to putatively English-speaking Scotland for study abroad. Each of her work-arounds, in typical Kirby fashion, became hugely affirming in its own right. Her creative spelling was more of an embarrassment to her than an impediment to her effective communication. (As a proactive coping strategy, she made lists of word that plagued her. These lists continue to show up.) She also found that she could excel in her work by working hard and staying organized.


Kirby loved children and was a genius at connecting with them. Particularly sad to her was the realization that the cancer had robbed her of that particular future: children of her own.


Kirby remained a vibrant presence to her family and friends even in her final weeks. She was a joyous, open-minded person with an incredible ability to bring people together. Not only did she connect others, but also she herself connected. She sought out and found people, institutions, places, and causes in her life that she connected to and supported with loyalty and love.


She was brave: not afraid to try new things or confidently pursue what she was already good at. Her smile and laughter were contagious and her heart was open and warm to all. Everyone who had the opportunity to know Kirby, whether for a weekend or a lifetime, was enriched. She was smart, funny, a really hard worker, committed to social justice, and a good cook.


Kirby’s good friend Rebecca Berman, another Smithie, created a web site blog for Kirby during her illness. This site allowed Kirby’s community to be with her for her last five months and is a beautiful testimonial to her life. In addition, Remembering Kirby is a Facebook site where many of her friends have posted.


Kirby is survived by her mother, Judith Capen, her father, Robert Weinstein, and her brother, Owen Weinstein, of Washington DC as well as adoring aunts, cousins, and friends who miss her, grieve for her, and will remember her lost future forever.


Kirby was buried 2 February 2012 at the Historic Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill in a traditional Jewish service. She was 28 years, 8 months, and 26 days old.



(Thanks to Erin McCuin, Smith ’07, who drafted the first version of this obit.)


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. colleenteresa
    Feb 17, 2012 @ 03:24:51

    Dear Judith and Robert,
    Life is full of gains and losses. As much as Kirby’s passing was a loss, knowing her, learning about her, seeing her grow into a beautiful woman was such a gain in my life that Kirby’s memory is a great consolation even in the time of Kirby’s loss. Her quirky sense of humor, ready smile, and desire to make and maintain connections are wonderful gifts. But it is her kindness and great gentle spirit that I will remember most. I first saw this as I watched her prepare for her Bat Mitzvah all those years ago. Even then she exemplified the idea of kindness and giving not as adjuncts to, but rather integral parts of who she was. At School Without Walls, I remember her enthusiasm and seeing her at innumerable Micah events where she exemplified the fully engaged person. Yes, she was very much her parents’ daughter showing how each of you had formed her in love, but, as every parent knows, children give back to us more than we give them. Kirby was a perfect example of this. And she wore her love of God and Judaism very easily, but the closer you came to her the more you saw it. I pray a great prayer of thanks to God that Kirby was a part of my life.
    I am a better person for having known her.
    All my love,


    • judith
      Feb 19, 2012 @ 17:39:10

      colleen, i’ve been reading your comments: thank you for your loving thoughts/prayers from a person of faith and one who knew and loved kirb. i don’t seem to have a current email for you so would you email me ( to chat offline about something i am thinking about?


  2. Dr. Robin Halprin-Hawkins
    Feb 17, 2012 @ 04:20:28

    Thank you all for the privilege of sharing this final, sad journey of an amazing woman whom, had we been contemporaries at Smith, I’m sure I would have admired and enjoyed.


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