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1938 Eunsook Kim 2023

Eun-sook Kim

March 11, 1938 — September 13, 2023

Oak Ridge

Eun-Sook Kim, 85, passed peacefully out of this life on September 13, 2023, in Oak Ridge, her home for more than 60 years. A loving, kindly spirit of unbounded generosity and limitless creativity, she gave constantly – of her time, finances, art, and self – until her last breath. All her life, she constantly sought ways to help others and make the world around her better, kinder, and more beautiful. 

She never recovered from the crippling depression that marked her last years and that finally robbed her of her creativity, energy, and spirit. 

A native of South Korea, she grew up in deprivation and hunger during the Japanese occupation and the Korean Conflict. Even though her family had to sell all its possessions to survive, she always had cheerful stories of her childhood, always finding the positive in the worst circumstances, like a flower that pushes its way through a crack in the pavement. 

She came to Oak Ridge in the 1960s to marry Hee Joong Kim, her husband of 59 years. Having majored in English, she was fluent, and quickly acclimated to her new environment and made friends. She grew to love East Tennessee, the Smokies, the wild plant life and animals that she would later feature in her art. 

She nurtured everything – her lovely garden, the birds that visited the house, the African violets and succulents that she propagated on every windowsill. She taught herself to play music and sing; paint; create pottery, wood-block prints, silk screens, batik, jewelry; and run her own business. Constantly knitting, crocheting, or sewing – she was never still for a moment, and earned her MFA in her 50s.

The standalone art studio she built became a haven of creativitywhere she worked from dawn past sunset, producing art, holding exhibits, and teaching classes in painting and ceramics and even cooking. Like all she created, it was welcoming and homey: a place to host day and overnight visitors, whether renowned artists from abroad or young relatives whom she taught crafts.

Her home was always welcoming, beautiful, and immaculate, filled with art by herself and her friends. She traveled to cultivate artists and promote her work at galleries and shows, whether in Asheville or New York. She journeyed to Korea to support her relatives and learn traditional arts. 

She supported her family energetically, spoiled them with her amazing cooking, and was never late to a single music lesson, karate or ballet class, football game, or cross-country meet. She hosted countless get-togethers, dazzling her guests with delicious multicourse dinners that seemed to appear effortlessly, complete with table linens she had made herself. No one could figure out how she did it – the dinner parties, ladies’ luncheons, her husband’s poker and mahjongg nights. 

She organized trips to meet her friends in Los Angeles and New York City for operas, concerts, museums and restaurant visits, and the unbelievable meals she whipped up in a tiny galley kitchen. A consummate host, she was never as happy as when she saw others enjoying themselves.

2020 marked the beginning of the disease that was to take her life in a “perfect storm” of conditions that started her sudden, slow decline. One of her closest, oldest friends from Oak Ridge passed away from COVID-19 after a long, drawn-out struggle. Then, the pandemic shut her out from everything that mattered to her – socializing, showing her art, traveling. One by one, theailments of our days piled on: political unrest and polarization, mass shootings, climate change. She moved out of her home for 55 years. Her beloved son-in-law died after a long struggle with cancer. 

She fought back, making art, campaigning for the Democrats, trying to connect with friends. But she was losing energy, her appetite, and the ability to sleep. One day, a longtime friend noticed that she embraced her unexpectedly, as if she were saying goodbye. 

She kept fighting, undergoing three hospitalizations, countless drugs and treatments. But the ills of the world wore her down. Over a painful two and a half years, she lost everything: The energy went out of her hands, and the light went out of her eyes.

After a prolonged, courageous battle, she became still. The unstoppable creator of beauty and endless giver of herself finally found peace.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to Narrow Ridge Earth Literacy Center (https://narrowridge.org/).


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