Wife, Mother of 3 Katherine Micallef, Who Taught Special Education, Was a Creative Spirit


Katherine Willoughby Micallef, age 67, died peacefully surrounded by her family on April 4, 2024 after a courageous journey with brain cancer.

Kathy was born on January 7, 1957 in Ypsilanti, Michigan to Thomas and Lois Willoughby. She spent her childhood in Ypsi and was and was a Class of 1975 graduate of Ypsilanti High School, and continued her education at Eastern Michigan University for both her undergraduate and masters’ degrees in Education. During this time, she met the love of her life, Tom “Turtle,” while working as a hostess at the storied Haab’s Restaurant, where a coworker set them up on a blind date. After marriage, they lived on the Huron River in Belleville, MI; their farm in Manchester, MI; and later settled in Saline, MI to raise their three daughters. Together, they loved to spend time at their cottage on Bird Lake, in Hillsdale, MI and in Estero, Florida & Austin, Texas. They shared so many beautiful memories in all of the places they called “home” with family and friends.

A lifelong educator at heart, Kathy spent her 30+ year career as a teacher in her hometown at Rackham School and Estabrook (formally known as New Horizons) Elementary, a majority of which she was a special education teacher for children who were physically handicapped or otherwise impaired. She was their biggest advocate, making sure they were treated with dignity and included in the school culture. Even in retirement, she loved to teach children. She tutored her nieces and nephews and children from the neighborhood, hosting “Aunt Kathy’s Curiosity Club.” She was a pillar in the community and touched the lives of so many, continuing to work for the Michigan Fitness Foundation “PE Nut Program” and the Ypsilanti Historical Society after retirement.

Kathy was a creative spirit and artist; she loved to watercolor in her art studio, meditate, walk, dance, and practice yoga & reiki. She loved spending time in nature– looking for butterflies on the Zinnias Turtle planted, and at the beach collecting shells. She noticed the precious little details in everything and everyone around her, and recorded them in her many journals. Kathy was also an avid reader who loved accumulating books and spending time at the library. She loved walking in labyrinths, and would look up where she could find one to visit while traveling. Together with Turtle and her son-in-law Scott, they designed and built a labyrinth in the backyard of their home, which can be seen overhead via Google Earth. Over the past 10+ years, this was her place of reflection, solitude, healing and peace.

Kathy is survived by her beloved husband Thomas “Turtle” Micallef, and together they shared over 41 years on their “magic carpet ride” of marriage. Their wedding song was “Colour My World” by Chicago, and she truly colored and lit up his world. She is also survived by her “dear daughters” Frances Katherine “Kate” (Cliff) Sands, Maryclaire (Scott) Ellis, and Hilary Joy (Nick) Lusardi; grandchildren, Patton Thomas, Mina Joy, Audie Jane, Robert Thomas “Bobby”, and two little ones on the way who will always carry her light. She cherished her family and loved the role of being “Grammie.” Kathy was loved and cared for by so many others including her siblings Marianne “Mimi” (John) Knox, Charles “Chuck” (Jean) Willoughby, Jaymes (Farra) Willoughby, David “Herb” (Pam) Willoughby and her numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and friends, all of whom she treasured.

Kathy’s family and friends will mourn her greatly, but know that she saw every day as a true gift, lived life fully and presently, and loved people so well. She found a way to connect with everyone she met, always chatting with new people, while inviting others to find joy, light and positivity in all situations. Her generosity, inclusive spirit and kindness were unmatched, and her favorite mantra that will live on in her legacy is “All is well…and getting better all the time.”

If you’d like to make a donation in Kathy’s memory, her family invites you to give to The Ypsilanti Historical Society, 220 N. Huron St. Ypsilanti, MI 48197, or to the Friends of the Saline District Library, 555 N. Maple Rd. Saline, MI 48176.

Visitation will be held on Sunday, April 7, 2024 at Nie Family Funeral Home, 2400 Carpenter Road, Ann Arbor, from 12:00 pm until 3:00 pm. A celebration of her beautiful life will follow at 3:30 pm. Her family asks that everyone wear her favorite colors: lime green, turquoise, or any shades of green and blue.

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