A Life Lived Where The Wild Things Are
Molly Simio | Hoya Staff Writer
By the age of 19, he had supported himself by working as a barista in Sydney and picking grapes in Italy. He had been chased by a pack of wild dogs in Bangkok, narrowly avoiding an attack. He spent his mornings behind the counter at Saxbys Coffee, turning coffee into art, and he spent evenings perfecting the fundamentals of boxing. He loved going on adventures, and always encouraged others to go on their own.
Nathan Kittredge “Kitt” Rom (SFS ’19) lived with extraordinary passion. Those close to him remember how this passion both colored his pursuit of his distinctive interests and manifested itself in an eagerness to learn about and relate to what interested others.
Rom died after skiing into a tree while wearing a helmet March 9, during a family vacation in Colorado. He was 19.
Passion, Lightly Roasted
On his first day of work at Saxbys Coffee in Georgetown, Rom was so excited that he jumped out of his car, leaving it running while he ran into the coffee shop, according to Saxbys Assistant Manager Latasha Brunson.
Coffee, for Rom, was more than just a drink — it was a passion. He enjoyed brewing coffee both at Saxbys and in his dorm room on the fifth floor of Darnall Hall, where he was known for sharing it with his friends and neighbors who were up late studying or doing homework. Rom used coffee to reach out to others, to show he cared and to forge meaningful connections. He even had a tattoo of a coffee plant sprawling down his left forearm.
“His passion for coffee was so great that I was hoping that he would consider making a career out of it, just the way that he talked about it and the way that he took serving coffee so seriously,” Saxbys owner and manager Jim Hilson (COL ’08) said.
Rom, an Arlington native, began his barista career at Saxbys during the summer of 2014, after graduating high school and prior to embarking on a gap year during which he traveled to Italy, the United Kingdom, Thailand and Australia. During his time in Australia, he supported himself by working at a coffee shop in Sydney.
“It’s where he learned a lot about coffee,” said Vance Vaughan (SFS ’19), a Saxbys employee and a close friend of Rom. “He learned a lot about the science behind it, and how to make the perfect espresso. It became something that he really had a passion for.”
Rom kept in touch with his Saxbys coworkers while he traveled the world, and returned to his job there last August at the start of his freshman year at Georgetown.
“I was looking at some old emails that he had sent me from while he was in Australia and he was saying how he was going to be a pro barista by the time he came back, he was going to be an expert. I loved that he embraced everything and everybody that he interacted with,” Hilson said.
Rom was perhaps so drawn to coffee because he found that it combined two of his favorite things — science and art.
A science, technology and international affairs major, Rom had a particular interest in chemistry and physics. He was especially excited when he could apply scientific concepts to his favorite drink.
“He related what he was learning about equilibrium of the chemicals in the solution and how reactions happen with changes of heat, and he would talk to me about how he could relate that to coffee,” Rom’s roommate Calvin Griffin (COL ’19) said.
Coffee was also an art form for Rom. In his dorm room, he brewed pour-over coffee, embracing a method that requires patience, skill and high-quality coffee beans, in order to produce coffee with a distinctive taste. His Saxbys coworkers also noted that he was particularly talented at latte art.
“Everything I do is an opportunity for art, and I will take these opportunities. I will perfect my craft,” Rom’s father, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the McCourt School of Public Policy Mark Rom said, reading a piece he had written from his son’s point of view at a memorial service in Dahlgren Chapel on Thursday afternoon.
Rom often hand-crafted the mugs from which he drank his coffee. Rom enjoyed creating pottery, and he often gifted mugs and dishes to his friends, family and co-workers. A blue mug that Rom sculpted for Hilson now sits on the counter near the cash register at Saxbys, holding flowers as part of a makeshift memorial for Rom.
“He used to make cups and mugs and stuff for us and bring them in here and put his signature on it,” Brunson said. “During the time when he came here, I was about to get married, and he made me a mug in my wedding colors.”
Coffee was also a conduit through which Rom formed connections with others — both those with whom he served coffee, and those he served.
Vaughan, who planned to room with Rom next semester, said some of his favorite memories with Rom happened in Saxbys early on Sunday mornings.
The pair would often open the shop together on Sundays, which meant they were required to be there at 6 a.m. Oftentimes, Vaughan said, they would arrive at Saxbys having only slept for two or three hours the night before.
“That was always fun to be in a crazy mental state and be opening up a coffee shop and watching the sunrise and listening to good music,” Vaughan said.
Many of Rom’s floormates fondly recall how he would often message everyone on the fifth floor of Darnall at the end of his shifts, alerting them that he was going back to the dorm with leftover pastries from Saxbys.
“We would all sit in the common room waiting for him to come back,” Rom’s friend and floormate Toby Nelson (MSB ’19) said. “He always tried to do something to help out everyone else.”
Residents of Darnall’s fifth floor also knew they could count on Rom when they needed a boost to get themselves through a long night of studying.
“I’m often up late studying and stressing out, and I could ask him, ‘Hey Kitt, can you make me a cup of coffee?’ and he would make me a cup of coffee that was unlike anything,” Rom’s friend and floormate Grant Olson (COL ’19) said. “He really put a lot of effort into it, and he loved what he did.
Pursuing the Wild Things
During his gap year, Rom travelled across three continents, often arriving in a country with no plan for where he would live or how he would support himself. He spent a rainy November backpacking across the U.K. and he honed his barista skills in Sydney. He climbed mountains, jumped off cliffs and played jump rope with a cord that was on fire.
“I got the vibe that the time he spent abroad was a real indicator of how independent he was as a person, and how he lived life, which was super adventurous,” Rom’s friend and floormate Isabel Lord (COL ’19) said.
“Whenever I listened to his stories, I always came out thinking, ‘Wow, this is an adult. He has lived a life. He knows how to live in the world, and he has had more life experience than almost any of us.’ He used that gap year that he took to do amazing things,” Olson said.
Rom’s gap year exemplified the redhead’s hunger for adventure and strong sense of independence. It also served as a period of personal growth before beginning college.
“He packed a lot into that adventure,” School of Foreign Service Associate Dean Anthony Pirrotti, Rom’s freshman advisor, said. “I think that really shaped who he was in a lot of ways.”
Rom undoubtedly lived a life of excitement while abroad, but he also found adventure in quieter, everyday moments.
Rom’s friend and floormate Alexandra Foley (COL ’19) remembers receiving a text from Rom as she left class one day, telling her that he was outside of Dahlgren Chapel and that she should stop by to say hello.
“I’m walking into [Dahlgren Quad] and I don’t see him anywhere; I don’t know where he is. And then I see that he put a hammock between two trees, and he was lying in the hammock. He was just like, ‘Why don’t you sit over here?’” Foley recalled. “People around us would be looking at the hammock and would be like, ‘Who are these crazy people?’ And he just didn’t care.”
One of Vaughan’s favorite memories of Rom is of a typically mundane activity that was transformed by Rom’s enthusiasm.
“We were hanging out, and he just kind of looked at me one day and was like, ‘Do you want to go turtleneck shopping with me?’ And I was like, ‘Actually, yes,’” Vaughan said. “It was kind of all I wanted in a friend, someone who wanted to go do that in a weird way. So we went all over D.C. trying to find the perfect turtlenecks.”
Lord recalled a fond memory with Rom spent in her dorm room in Darnall one quiet morning, the last time she spent time with her friend one-on-one.
“He texted me and said, ‘Hey, I’ll trade you a pancake for some maple syrup,’ because he just got into a pancake-making kick. But he didn’t have a pan, he had a … pot, and so he poured the batter in the bottom of it,” Lord said. “We sat in my room at 10 in the morning eating pancakes off of the cutting boards I had in my room.”
Some of Rom’s newest adventures occurred as a part of Georgetown’s boxing club, which he joined this semester, though he had little experience. Other boxers remember Rom’s eagerness to learn about the sport and his diligence as he worked toward mastering its fundamentals.
“Kitt brought a passionate enthusiasm to everything he did, and boxing was no different. He welcomed the challenge of the fight, of the mental and physical preparation,” members of the boxing club wrote in a collective statement to The Hoya. “He also picked up the sport quite well, improving his footwork every day. He was known to punch extremely hard, especially for someone with so little experience.”
At Thursday’s memorial service, Chris Rom (COL ’16) recalled some of his younger brother’s final adventures as the two skied together in Colorado.
“On Monday … his skis had caught a bump and he tumbled head over heels into the fresh powder. He fell so hard that his pants fell off,” Rom said, drawing laughter from the crowded church. “And he told us this story as he skied to catch up with me and [my girlfriend] Julie, still zipping and buttoning things back together. And he said that when he looked up from the snowdrift he ended up in, there were two adults staring at him with very concerned expressions, to which his only response was to just giggle.”
Many of those who knew him agree that “Where the Wild Things Are,” a children’s book by Maurice Sendak, serves as a powerful symbol of Rom’s sense of adventure and fierce independence. Rom had a poster of the book’s cover hanging in his dorm room, and he recently had an image of the book’s protagonist, Max, tattooed on his rib cage.
“I think that demonstrated a lot. He was a wild thing. He was crazy. He wore these really, really tight jeans that were ripped but he could pull them off. He had the tattoos and the nose piercing. He didn’t really care. He just did himself, and that reflects the independent spirit he had,” Olson said.
“He was different in the best ways possible,” Griffin said. “He was drawn to obscurity; he appreciated how other people were different. He didn’t just go along with the status quo. He wasn’t just a normal kid at Georgetown; he was a special, special individual.”
Vice President for Mission and Ministry Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., used the book as a motif throughout his remarks at Thursday’s memorial service.
O’Brien summarized the book, which tells the story of a young boy whose imagination takes him on an adventurous romp with wild things after he is sent to bed with no supper. The boy eventually grows lonely and returns home, finding a warm meal waiting for him.
“For every good adventure — even the best of adventures — there is an ending,” O’Brien said. “Better, there is a coming home. … Now, when you think about it, in the divine embrace, [Kitt] experiences both the ultimate homecoming and the ultimate adventure.”
An Inventive Thinker
By all accounts, Rom had an incredibly bright mind, a creative thought process and a marked humility about his intelligence.
Rom scored a perfect 2400 on his SATs, but when one of his friends from Georgetown saw a post indicating the score on Rom’s Instagram feed, Rom was embarrassed.
“[The friend] started telling people, and then Kitt deleted the post from Instagram. He didn’t want anyone to know,” Lord said.
Rom never tried to draw attention to his intelligence, but his friends and classmates nevertheless were often impressed by his smarts.
Foley, who took a chemistry class with Rom, recalled how achieving academic success was seemingly effortless for Rom.
“He would just sit in class, and have a notebook, but just sit there. And then when we were doing the homework, he would be the one helping me,” Foley said. “I was just like, ‘How do you know all of this, and you don’t even open up a book?”
Rom had an affinity for the hard sciences, and especially loved physics. He was interested in how science could be used to improve the world, and was perhaps drawn to the School of Foreign Service’s science, technology and international affairs program because of its interdisciplinary focus.
“What was cool about Kitt was that he was very ‘sciencey,’ and that’s what he loved, but he also had this kind of creativity about him. In some ways, I think a lot of people assumed just by talking to him that he was going to be doing something in the humanities or the arts, because that’s kind of what he was like,” Pirrotti said. “He was very creative and interesting and unique. But he also had this really hardcore passion for old school science. He blended those really nicely.”
STIA assistant professor Sarah Stewart Johnson remembers how Rom’s intellectual creativity and multidisciplinary interests shone in her class “The Search for Life on Mars,” which Rom took as his freshman proseminar last semester.
“He had really creative thoughts about things,” Johnson said. “He wrote this term paper and was able to combine Greek philosophers with viruses. He was looking at the idea of life and what it means, these different definitions of it and how modern discoveries in biology blurred the lines between animate and inanimate objects.”
Rom, who many said was more interested in living in the moment than worrying about the future, was uncertain of his career aspirations. He did know, though, that he was interested in science’s practical implications and its potential to help people.
“He was passionate about science, he was passionate about having a positive impact on the world and he was also passionate about experiencing life,” Pirrotti said. “He wasn’t someone who was just going to sit by and watch. He was going to be someone who rolled up his sleeves and really engaged in the world.”
Hundreds of Rom’s friends and family members gathered in Dahlgren Chapel on Thursday for a service that was uniquely tailored to the freshman. Lord, Griffin and Vaughan offered reflections, as did Rom’s father and brother. The service opened with jazz music — Rom’s favorite — and Saxbys coffee was served at a reception in Dahlgren Quad following the memorial.
Rom’s funeral will be held March 24 at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in McLean, Va. The university has arranged for a bus to take students from campus to the service.
Informal remembrances and celebrations of Rom’s life have also continued throughout the week.
A picture of Rom sits on the counter at Saxbys, and employees have pledged to donate their tips to the Georgetown Scholarship Program Necessity Fund, where the Rom family has requested donations to be directed in lieu of flowers. The Saxbys employees aim to raise $500, and Hilson and his two co-owners plan to make a separate contribution to the fund.
Saxbys employees also plan to stage a remembrance each year on Rom’s birthday.
“Every year we’re going to get some balloons and we’re going to celebrate Kitt’s life,” Brunson said, adding that employees will likely make an annual donation to GSP on Rom’s birthday.
On Monday evening, Rom’s floormates gathered in their common room, where they shared some of their favorite memories of their friend and sat in reflective silence. Other Darnall residents and friends of Rom eventually joined them.
“It was definitely hard because there really isn’t anything to say, because it’s still really shocking to us. Most of us are still waiting for him to come around the corner and say hi,” Nelson said.
Even as those close to Rom share their memories of him, he still remains somewhat of an enigma. No one truly knew what to expect from Rom, or which adventure he would pursue next.
“I will be glad to have been a mystery,” Mark Rom said, speaking again from the perspective of his late son. “Because mysteries leave us wanting more.”
Hoya Staff Writers Ian Scoville and Syed Humza Moinuddin contributed to reporting.