Catharine Conley

Catharine Conley

Catharine Anastasia Conley passed away on Friday, March 10, 2017 at her home.

A life of 78 years can seem comparatively long, but in reality, is far too short for a soul with the determination and talents of Kit Conley. She was the second daughter in a family of four kids, all born five years apart at the end of the Great Depression and just before the Second World War, in St. Albans, a small neighborhood in the borough of Queens, New York City. Two boys came first and last, with two girls between and a year apart. Kit was always aware of being the “little sister” and worked hard to rise above that status – which she did so notably all her life.

Although raised as a city girl in New York, Kit was always an animal lover, a budding athlete, and a strong competitor in both sports and academics. She had a unique bohemian streak and loved to wear unusual outfits, especially hats and jewelry that showed her creative instincts. After one year of medical school at Johns Hopkins, Kit began to work in biological research at Brown University, a life-long interest that culminated many years later with a PhD in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin. In 1962, armed with a Master’s degree in Biology, Kit headed to a job at the Rockefeller Institute in Manhattan, living in Greenwich Village in the heady days of the early ’60’s. There she met Charlie Conley, who was completing a doctorate in mathematics at the Courant Institute of New York University, and was soon to become Professor of Mathematics at the University of Wisconsin. Kit and Charlie arrived at UW as newlyweds in 1964, and raised three children in Madison. Kit was a dedicated docent at the Elvejhem Art Museum, an active member of the Garden Club and a candidate for School Board in Madison. She traveled extensively with her family, nurtured a love of literature and music, especially poetry and opera, and was always motivated by a passionate concern for the environment and for social justice.

After Charlie’s death, she married Dr. Robert Elkins in 2001, joining together two families with an interwoven history of friendship and common interests. This union celebrated many happy times in both New Glarus and Madison. Kit survived a difficult struggle to overcome the illness that finally claimed her life. She leaves behind her husband Bob, two brothers, Harry Smith, Boston, MA and Bill Smith (Judith), Thousand Oaks, CA, a sister, Peggy Rejto (Peter), Minneapolis, MN, son Charlie Conley (Elizabeth) and their children Julian and Chloe, Denton, TX, daughter Cassie Conley, Washington, D.C., and son John and his children, Camille and Lila Rose, Paris, France. Bob was a faithful, loving companion on Kit’s life journey, giving her the gift of living out her days at home in New Glarus among the people and surroundings she treasured.

Memorials are preferred for Common Cause, Doctors without Borders, or AARP.

The Zentner-Beal Funeral Home of New Glarus is assisting the family.

An online memorial with guestbook is available at