Kitty Kearns, in purple, was supervisor of legislative pages from 1977 until she died this week. She supervised about 1,250 pages in that time.

LINCOLN — Kitty Kearns was a tiny woman who left a huge legacy through the hundreds of young legislative pages she supervised, friends said.

Tributes to her flooded in Thursday as word spread about her death the day before. Kearns, 72, passed away after a short illness.

“Nebraska lost a special person,” said Heath Mello, a legislative page who went on to become a state senator from Omaha. “She changed lives and made the legislative experience memorable for us former pages.”

Amy Himes had two children who served as pages under Kearns’ supervision.

“I owe Kitty a life-long debt of gratitude for providing a strong example of what it means to act out of love, to show up, to work hard, and to speak truth to power,” Himes tweeted.

A Lincoln native, Kearns worked for the Nebraska Legislature for slightly more than 50 years.

She started as a page herself on Dec. 9, 1968, one of the 25 or so college students hired each session to fetch coffee, make copies and generally run errands for state lawmakers.

In 1972, she was designated “page in charge.”

By 1977, she was named page supervisor, a position she held until her death.

Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer of Norfolk said she supervised about 1,250 young people over that period. He said she thought of those she supervised as “her” pages and took pride in their lives and accomplishments.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln said she was particularly proud of those who went on to become state senators.

Along with Mello and Morfeld, that list includes Adrian Smith, who now represents Nebraska’s 3rd District in Congress, and Scott Moore, who was later Nebraska’s secretary of state.

Morfeld described Kearns as a “legend” at the Capitol. He said she used to give him special assignments, including tracking down pages who had gone missing and making sure that senators didn’t eat the doughnuts and pizza that had been bought for the pages.

Kearns is survived by her brother and sister-in-law, Michel and Linda Kearns.

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Notable Omaha-area deaths of 2018

A look back at some of those from the Omaha area who died in 2018.

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North Omaha cattleman and entrepreneur Herbert C. Rhodes lived a singular life of self-determination, from defeating racial segregation at the Peony Park swimming pool in 1963 and running the half-mile for Omaha University to leading the City of Omaha Human Relations Board and using skills from a long corporate career to create private success.

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Smith served as interim chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the early 1980s, when he defended workplace sexual harassment protections against forceful political attack. He later became the dean of Howard University’s law school and authored a seminal book on the history of black lawyers in America.

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“She’s been an amazing advocate for children,” said Benjamin Gray, a review specialist with the Nebraska Foster Care Review Office. “Rosemary helped me to always maintain a perspective of aspiration — to continue to question whether what we were being told was the best the system could do.”

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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