CUMMING — The Forsyth County father of a 24-year-old Peace Corps volunteer who was killed last week in the West African nation of Benin said her personality could brighten any room.
"She was just a beacon of light for everybody," Harry Puzey said of his daughter, Catherine "Kate" Puzey. "Everybody loved Kate. She was so good at getting other people to come together and work together and she gave to others. That’s what drew her to the Peace Corps."
Friends found Kate Puzey’s body early Thursday morning outside her home in the village of Badjoude, where she taught English. She died Wednesday night, her father said.
The U.S. Peace Corps and the U.S. Embassy in Cotonou, Benin, confirmed the death Friday. They are coordinating with local authorities, who are handling the investigation and will determine the cause of death.
The Puzeys told the Associated Press their daughter’s body will be accompanied back to Georgia in the coming days by a Peace Corps official. A service is scheduled for noon Saturday in Alpharetta at The Sanctuary at Birmingham United Methodist Church.
Kate Puzey’s mother, Lois, teaches social studies at Little Mill Middle School. Harry Puzey, a substitute teacher for the Forsyth County school system, said he and his wife previously taught in an overseas program that took the family all over the world.
Kate Puzey was born in Germany and graduated from high school in Okinawa, Japan. She was president of the student council her junior and senior years, and was salutatorian of her senior class, he said.
She graduated in 2006 from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., where she studied sociology and business. She spent her junior year studying in Montpelier, France.
Puzey said his daughter went to West Africa because she was fluent in French, which is spoken throughout that part of the continent.
He said she joined the Peace Corps in July 2007 and was scheduled to return home this summer.
"She loved getting other people to come together," he said.
Kate Puzey kept a blog of her experiences. In her latest entry, written in October, she described a girls’ camp she ran in the summer.
"We brought 22 girls together from two local secondary schools, teaching them about self-confidence, good decision-making, family planning, women’s health, conflict resolution, healthy communication, etc.," she wrote. "It was a good group — though shy at first they quickly opened up.
"Unfortunately, I had to leave before the end of the week. But already in several days I watched the girls grow closer to each other and have more confidence in themselves. Though I was sorry to leave them, I knew they were in good hands. Heading down to Cotonou, I was getting more and more excited about the next stage of the summer."
That next stage was a trip home for a visit.
Her uncle, David Benson of Cumming, said Kate Puzey was a "phenomenal kid" who was "committed to making a difference in the world."
Another uncle, Gordon Benson, said she had excellent people skills and always was reaching out to others.
"When she was a little girl ... you would be astounded by the wisdom she seemed to have about people," he said.
Harry Puzey said the Peace Corps had planned to hold a memorial service Monday for his daughter at the U.S. Embassy in Benin.
"They’ve called us repeatedly," he said. "They’ve been very cooperative and understanding."
Jody K. Olsen, acting director of the Peace Corps, said in a statement that Kate Puzey was "an exemplary member of the Peace Corps family whose dedicated work as a secondary English teacher in a rural public school in Badjoude, Benin, contributed greatly to the lives of the Beninese citizens."
"Kate’s life and work spoke volumes about the kind of dedication she had to her service as a volunteer, and the U.S. Peace Corps is greatly saddened by her loss," Olsen said.
The government of Benin has expressed condolences to the U.S. government and pledged its full cooperation and support in the matter, according to Olsen.
There are currently 100 Peace Corps volunteers serving in Benin. More than 1,631 volunteers have served there since the program was established in 1968.
Puzey said Peace Corps officials have told him his daughter’s death was the first murder of a volunteer in Benin in 40 years.
"She would not want (her death) to keep people from joining the Peace Corps," he said. "Kate loved the Peace Corps. She loved what she was doing. She loved helping those people, and they loved her in the village."
He said his daughter felt safe there, and his wife — who visited Benin last summer — also considered the village safe.
In addition to her parents, immediate survivors include an older brother, David Puzey of Berkley, Calif., as well as her grandmother, Mary Benson of Buford, and other relatives.
The Kate Puzey Memorial Fund has been established to help causes Puzey believed in. Donations can be sent to: c/o Smith, Gambrell, and Russel, LLP, Suite 3100, 1230 Peachtree Street, NE, Atlanta, GA 30309-3592.