Kathleen Navarra, a dedicated Sacramento County prosecutor who faced criminals and stage 4 cancer with strength, tenacity and poise, died Friday of the disease, her family said. She was 31.
A top athlete at Rio Americano High School, Ms. Navarra attended law school at the University of Oregon with plans to be a sports agent. But, inspired by her criminal law class, she decided to become a prosecutor and spent a summer interning with the gang violence team at the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office.
Her work impressed officials, who offered her a second summer internship, a research position as a third-year student and, finally, a job after graduation.
"She was very eager and extremely smart, and she had a lot of common sense," Supervising Deputy DA Rod Norgaard said. "She was made for the job."
Two weeks after finishing law school in 2006, Ms. Navarra was diagnosed with stage 4 colorectal cancer. She spent a year undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery before passing the state bar exam and going to work as a deputy district attorney.
She handled misdemeanors and juvenile cases before joining the felony bureau. She prosecuted shootings, robberies, burglaries and other serious crimes with a toughness and intelligence that impressed veteran prosecutors and defense attorneys. She displayed a confidence and eloquence in court that belied her 5-foot-1 stature and youthful appearance.
"She was very petite and blond," prosecutor Nora Hall said. "You think 'very sweet' when you look at her. But when she started speaking, she was very concise and well put together. She had a commanding presence."
Born in 1981 in Tracy, Kathleen Elizabeth Navarra was 13 when her parents, Leslie and Peter, moved their family to Sacramento. She played soccer and was named most valuable player on the varsity softball team at Rio Americano. She graduated from high school in 1999 and earned an economics degree from the University of California, San Diego, in 2003.
She loved sports all her life and was the only girl on her Little League baseball team. She was an avid San Francisco Giants fan who went to her first game with her parents as a toddler and attended two playoff games last fall.
Ms. Navarra put in long hours as a prosecutor despite ongoing treatment for cancer that disappeared each time for several months but then returned. The disease eventually spread, and she left work last year. She underwent an innovative chemotherapy earlier this year, but the drug was ineffective for her.
News of her death shook friends, who recalled a dedicated public servant and fun, outgoing woman who always wore a smile and connected easily with people. She nurtured friendships from every period of her life and thought of others before herself.
Last year, she took up watercolor painting and created a calendar with outdoor scenes she had painted for each month. She printed and gave them as Christmas gifts.
"She was beyond thoughtful," prosecutor Rona Filippini said. "Even though she was fighting cancer, she always wanted to know what was going on in your life."
Born: Sept. 26, 1981 Died: March 22, 2013
Survived by: Parents, Peter and Leslie of Sacramento; brothers, Andrew and John, both of San Francisco; sister, Margaret Kreulen of Auburn; and grandparents, Kenneth and Daphne Towns of Lake Wildwood
Services: 11 a.m. Thursday at Trinity Cathedral, 2620 Capitol Ave., Sacramento
Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to UC Davis Cancer Center.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.
Editor's note: This story was changed March 26 to correct the spellings of Rod Norgaard and Rona Filippini.