Deanna Kathline “Kathy” Justice, long-time resident and former mayor of Victor, Colorado, passed away in the early morning hours of November 20th, 2021, surrounded by family and friends in her apartment in Cañon City. She was 71.
Born in 1950 as the second of seven children and oldest daughter, Kathy’s younger days in Victor were both formative and difficult. Her father, Jess Fay, was an itinerant miner who never kept his growing family in any one place for long, and her mother Betty left him after years of unpredictability and struggle, later marrying Harry Groves and having two more daughters. The household of nine found more stability after that marriage, and their home on Spicer Avenue was the bustling center of large family gatherings for the next two decades until they moved to Cañon City in the early 1990s. Kathy often reminisced on the deep sense of community in Victor during the 1950s and ‘60s, as well as the economic and domestic difficulties of her early years, but those experiences also gave her a powerful work ethic, a deep sense of right and wrong, and a profound empathy for those in struggle, and these qualities would often carry her through the many challenges of her adult life.
Kathy married Jimmie Justice in 1968, when she was 18 and he was 39. He’d been divorced three times before and had three children from his first marriage, including a son the same age as his new bride. It was a huge scandal at the time, and only two people in the whole town would even speak to Jim for the first few years of their marriage, but Kathy was in love, undaunted, and more than a match for him and for any local gossips. Finances were difficult throughout their marriage, but they always found ways forward, largely because of Kathy’s indominable will and formidable industriousness. Within a couple of years they settled down near Jim’s childhood home of Ordway, Colorado, and seven years into their marriage they had their only biological child, Daniel “Booner” Justice. They moved back to Victor in 1980, where they raised their son and built a life until their respective health problems forced them to move to Cañon City’s lower elevation in 2016.
Kathy was fiercely loving and deeply committed to her family and friends, but she also had a rebellious streak and firmly walked her own path throughout life, bolstered by a sassy sense of humor, an incredible mental catalogue of dirty jokes, a sharp wit and equally sharp tongue, and a generous and sensitive heart that was easily bruised but never stopped giving. She had many jobs: nursing home assistant, telephone switchboard operator, mining plant lab superintendent and assayer, mine tour guide, food sales manager, among others, but she was best known as a restauranteur and down-home cook—renowned especially for her green chili, cinnamon rolls, apple and cherry pies, and biscuits and gravy—and as the mayor of Victor.
Food was undoubtedly Kathy’s love language, and she was a marvel in the kitchen, able to transform some of the most mundane ingredients into perfectly-prepared and nutritional delights that lingered long in memory as well as on the palate. No one ever left her home hungry or without leftovers, and even when money was tight she always made sure that there was food enough on the table for everyone. She put these skills to work in her own restaurants, most notably the Amber Inn in the 1980s, where butter and coffee flowed freely, the cinnamon rolls were as big as a dinner plate, and the fresh-made pies sold out daily. There was always a place for the hungry and the lonely at her table, no matter how little she had.
Kathy was also drawn to public service, and her love of Victor and frustration with its increasing decline led her to run for office in 2002. She served as Victor’s mayor for five years, during which time she worked with Council members and City staff (especially her friend and colleague Sandy Honeycutt) to secure grant funds to restore the historic City Hall and community center and to repair the upper dams that provide Victor’s water supply, among other vital infrastructure projects. She also worked to modernize codes, increase government transparency, and ensure that dangerously derelict buildings in the city limits and other safety issues were addressed. She was no fan of Victor’s entrenched “old boys’ club” and faced a lot of resistance during her time in office in spite of her many successes, but she carried on with what she believed and refused to compromise her integrity even when it might have made things superficially easier. After leaving politics in 2007, she reflected on her experience in writing. The two books that resulted satirized local and national politics (the latter co-written with her brother Bob) and gave great entertainment to readers—or at least to those not featured in their pages!
Before moving to Cañon City, Kathy’s increasing focus was Jim’s declining health, as well as her own. From 2012 on she began to have a range of problems, including numerous heart and lung issues, and after her cancer diagnosis of multiple myeloma in 2015, she realized that they would need to live closer to family at a lower elevation. Kathy recuperated from heart surgery with Bob and his wife Tami before finally moving with Jim to the Royal Gorge Manor, where they found a vibrant and supportive community of friends. The last years of Kathy’s life were overflowing with love and friendship, including many country karaoke sessions, Catholic services with Bob, scripture sessions with fellow Manor residents, canasta and mahjong get-togethers, and daily coffee chats, not to mention weekly Diablo 3 monster-hunting video game sessions with her son Daniel and, later, her cousin Hannah, where they played with the principle “the family that slays together stays together.” Even COVID-19 restrictions couldn’t keep her from socializing (safely!) with her friends. Many feared that she might give up after her much-loved husband’s death in 2019, but true to form she rallied again with the support of friends and family, and although she grew gradually weaker from the accumulating health problems, she never lost her trademark sense of humor or her stubborn streak, even at the very end. Many members of her family were with her in those last days, telling stories, laughing at her jokes, and crying over good memories of their many wonderful times together.
Kathy was predeceased by her husband Jimmie Justice and brother Dan Groves. She is survived by her son Daniel Justice and his husband Kent Dunn, her stepson Gifford Justice and his wife Elizabeth, stepdaughter Becky Max, her chosen daughter Melissa Williams and her partner Larry, her sisters Patricia, Susan, and Mary (and husband Mike), brothers Bob (and wife Tami) and Mickey (and wife Peggy), and sister-in-law Nancy, many nieces and nephews (including Sara, Amy, Alexis, and George-Paul, who helped so much at the end), uncles Joe (and wife Mary) and Tom, and multiple cousins, especially Donna Burris, Hannah Siebert and Elena Hughes, and other extended and chosen family, including Nancy Donovan, Shelley Neuhalfen, and Barbara Tracy and her children. Daniel and Kent particularly want to thank Kathy’s cousin and chosen-daughter Lori Hughes and her husband James, whose long and thoughtful support helped her remain in the Royal Gorge Manor for the last couple of years as her health condition was deteriorating. Kathy was fiercely independent and valued freedom and family above all things, and Lori and James helped make that possible all the way to the end. She and Jimmie are now two-stepping among the stars, lifted up by the good memories of those of us here on Earth.
The family would like to give a special note of appreciation to Kathy’s excellent health care teams at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers in Colorado Springs (particularly the incomparable Dr. Monticelli and Amy Wall, NP), St. Thomas More Hospital in Cañon City (especially Dr. McCreight), CenterCare Hospice in Pueblo (especially Darlene, Ashley, and Melanie), and the thoughtful staff at Palace Drug. In spite of many health issues, Kathy was well supported throughout her journey, and the kindness in their care made her difficulties easier to bear.
There will be no formal burial service, as Kathy requested that her body be cremated and scattered in a private ceremony for family and friends at a later date, but a remembrance of life gathering will take place next summer (2022) in Cañon City when the COVID situation is safer. For questions or more information, please call Daniel at 604-345-0080 or email email@example.com. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (https://themmrf.org).
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