Laura Southwick was a woman who died at age 33 while on a business trip to China as a shoe designer for a U.S. company. Her obituary described her as talented, creative and funny. What it did not say was that she had many struggles to find herself - her own style and her own voice. Her experiences led her to encourage young people to experiment with new forms of expression. Her passionate encounter with the world led her to speak out forcefully against the injustices she saw and to treat the least of us with respect.
Born in Chicago, Laura grew up in Oak Park, Illinois. She attended grammar schools in Oak Park and graduated from Oak Park-River Forest High School in 1986. She entered Columbia College Chicago in interior design, but switched her field of study to multi-cultural literature before graduating in 1992. After graduation she worked for the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago, and as an editorial assistant on job finder books published by Daniel Lauber of River Forest. She worked for a year for Houghton-Mifflin, Evanston, on an editorial team for a multi-cultural literature high school text book.
In 1995 Laura moved from Chicago to New York City with her boy friend, Tommy Blacha, a writer for the Late Night with Conan O'Brien show on NBC. She worked as a free-lance editor in New York before taking a shoe construction class at the Parsons School of Design. She began her career in the shoe business with Nine West in White Plains, New York, moving from the Selby line to 9 & Co. Then she moved to Kenneth Cole Productions, where she worked as a designer for the Reaction line of women's shoes for about two years before her death .
Laura loved the creative part of her work, drawing and designing. Also her job included attending shoe shows in Milan, Amsterdam and in Las Vegas as well as managing the production of the prototypes and and final runs of shoes in factories in China and Brazil. Her frequent trips to China and Brazil for work were exhausting, demanding and sometimes dangerous.
She was adventuresome and was fascinated with other cultures and people. She traveled to Greece with Chad Pearson, her boyfriend during her last three years in New York. Close friendships with others in the shoe business also led to travel. She and Chad went to Majorca with John McGrath to visit Mila Lazaro, both of whom were shoe designers. Five days before Laura died she took a break from the factory and traveled to Beijing to climb the Great Wall of China.
Laura maintained friendships across time and distance. She kept ties with Margaret Childs and Wendy Kanno (Hendryx) from her grammer and high school years. She saw Pam Kulat-Tawse and Scott Tawse, friends and roommates from college, when she came to Oak Park. Above all Laura was loyal to her family. She visited her parents in Oak Park frequently and several Thanksgivings were spent with them at the San Francisco home of her brother, Dan, his wife Natasha and their daughter Isabella - Laura's very special love.