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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Kathryn Knowles Life and Memorial Service

The IWF community is sorry to inform you that our cherished member, and ex-president, Kathryn Knowles, passed away on September 18th from a very rare and aggressive form of cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends, and she is survived by her son Jackson, her husband Marco, her mother Carol, and her father Tony.

Please join us to celebrate Kathryn's life on Saturday 22 September at 10am at Istituto Ramazzini - Castello di Bentivoglio , Via Saliceto 3, Bentivoglio . The service will be in the Sala dei Cinque Camini and there is parking available at the castle. 

Expressions of sympathy for Kathryn’s family should be sent to  If you would like to share photos or stories with Kathryn’s son Jackson to view or read in the future, please send them to



Kathryn Knowles died of complications from a rare and aggressive form of cancer on September 18, 2018 in Bologna, Italy.  She was 42. 

Born in Stanford, California on April 27, 1976 to Carol and Tony Knowles, Kathryn was raised in San Mateo, and attended Crystal Springs Uplands Middle and High School in Hillsborough, California, where she was elected president of the student body.  Kathryn was baptized, confirmed and married through the First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame, California and participated in international mission trips, which shaped her faith.  During high school, she won a scholarship to attend the Junior State summer school at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.,  which would mark the beginning of a successful career in international relations that would span many different industries across two continents.

After high school, she attended undergraduate studies from 1994-1998 at Stanford University, where she was active in Stanford Student Enterprises and was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta.  After studying abroad for a semester in Santiago, Chile, she went on to earn an undergraduate degree in Public Policy with a minor in Latin American Studies from Stanford in 1998.

From 1998-2000, she lived in Austin, Texas while working at software developer Trilogy before moving to Bologna, Italy to pursue a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  She completed an MA in International Relations at SAIS in 2002 with specializations in international economics and US foreign policy and a thesis on “Politics and Pressure: the Carter Administration and Pinochet’s Chile.”

It was during her academic sojourn in Bologna when she met the love of her life, Marco Orsi. The two married on  August 23, 2003 in Woodside, California and returned to Italy to make their home in Bologna.

From 2005-2009 she worked as director of resource development at the Ramazzini Institute, a non profit independent cancer research facility in Bentivoglio, and even after leaving the institute, continued to consult and oversee institutional affairs at Collegium Ramazzini, an  independent, international academy comprised of internationally renowned scientists.

Kathryn became a dual US-Italian citizen in 2007 and went on to run for local office in the small Italian town where she was living. After a successful local campaign, she was handily elected to the 15-member City Council of San Giorgio di Piano in June 2009 for a 5-year-term.  She served on the council’s budget and social services commissions until 2013. 

In 2009, she accepted a position as new business development manager at the Bologna Fiere, where she would work nearly three years. After a decade working in Italian organizations, she returned to her graduate alma mater Johns Hopkins SAIS in 2012 to launch the Bologna Institute for Policy Research, eventually becoming Associate Director of the European and Eurasian Studies Program on both sides of the Atlantic, working between campuses in Washington D.C. and Bologna. She also worked as Director of Public Affairs at SAIS Europe, helping coordinate public events sponsored by the university to promote political awareness and understanding. 

She was an active member of the International Women’s Forum of Bologna (IWF) and was the association's President for two mandates, during which time she led an ambitious initiative to finance and publish "Bologna Inside, Everything you need to know to make Bologna home", a guidebook for foreigners living in Italy. She was also a pivotal force in the creation of an interactive online portal and forum for English-speaking women in Bologna, which today remains an important local and regional resource. An active participant in the Bologna running community, Kathryn participated in several marathons and promoted sports as an instrument of social cohesion, particularly for young women.  Her many friends admired her whip smart sense of humour, intellectual curiosity, expansive generosity, positive can-do attitude and infectious laugh. She was impeccably organized, a great dancer and excelled beyond expectations at every new task she fearlessly took on.

On September 26, 2015, Kathryn and Marco had a son, Jackson Orsi,  who was the light of her life. Jackson was baptized in April 2016 at the Presbyterian church of Moorestown, New Jersey. Kathryn enjoyed many joyous family moments in Europe, the U.S. and abroad, traveling in 2017 with Jackson and Marco to Malaysia, as well as Chile.

She was preceded in death by her great grandmother Kathryn Shaffer, her grandfather David Shaffer, grandmom Ann Shaffer, her grandpa Andy Knowles and grandma Geri Knowles, and her father in law Giovanni Orsi. She is survived by her husband Marco Orsi, her son Jackson, her mother, Carol Knowles, her father Tony Knowles and her mother-in-law Angela Pasquale and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins.

She will be remembered as a dedicated, warm and passionate mother, a loving wife and thoughtful daughter, a brilliant professional and a loyal friend whose positive attitude and generous spirit inspired the best in those around her.