Photo by Michael Polito
Kati and Tom Byrne today.
There’s a Hollywood-ready aspect to Kati and Tom Byrne’s backstory. They sort of knew each other in the way that everyone did in a small school like Hastings High School in the 1980s. Both were into theater—Tom played the lead in the school production of Li’l Abner, and Kati was cast as Dogpatch’s femme fatale, Stupefyin’ Jones. “The director had me do a little gyration dance that could put a guy into a spell,” she recalls. The fancy moves didn’t work on Li’l Abner, but Tom admits, “I thought Kati was very stupefying.”
He got her phone number and promised to call that night. He didn’t, and Kati only recently found out why: Tom’s parents were out of town, and their house rapidly became party central. “Crazy stuff happened,” Tom says, describing a scene in which more than 50 cars clogged the neighborhood streets, and a souvenir bridal bouquet somehow burst into flames on the dining room table. “I felt like she shouldn’t get involved. I knew it wouldn’t be a proper date.”
Kati had felt a twinge of jealousy when he kissed Daisy Mae in the school play, and when Tom didn’t call, “I had the angsty teen feeling that this was the most horrible thing that could possibly happen to me. I got over it in twenty-four hours. Back in high school, when I felt hurt, I tended to feel it intensely, but only for a short time.” Neither recalls any lingering tension. Once Li’l Abner was history, they spent little time with each other. Tom was in a rock band, which took up a lot of time, and Kati spent practically every weekend on Shelter Island with her family.
At the end of the year, Tom outfitted an old school bus and went on the road with his band; Kati prepared for college. She went on to become a reporter for the Staten Island Advance and the New York Post, to marry a fellow journalist, and to get divorced after nearly 10 years. Though she has lived in New England and New York City, respectively, since high school, she refers to her hometown as “HOH: Heaven-on-Hudson. I always had this feeling about belonging with someone from Hastings, that the shared roots would make a difference. It’s like an intuition, a strong feeling.”
Tom stayed single. “I never met the right person,” he says, perhaps, in part, because he moved a lot for business. Post-Hastings, he lived in Miami, San Francisco, Albuquerque, Los Angeles, and more than once in Brooklyn, most recently since 2010. Besides the rock bands and stints with Greenpeace and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Tom studied audio-visual engineering and worked with event planners and design firms, including the renowned Robert Isabell, on projects such as Vogue’s 100th anniversary, Armani runway fashion shows, and celebrity weddings.
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Tom and Kati crossed paths again, 23 years later, at an arts event. One of Kati’s best friends, Susan Ross, an artist they had known since Hastings High, had them both on her art-openings mailing list. One night as Tom was walking into the gallery, Kati happened to be walking out. “He looked different, but in a really handsome, grown-man kind of way,” she says.
“Kati looked marvelous, as always,” Tom says. “I recognized her immediately; it was like a blast from the past.” After a quick “hello,” Kati made sure they ran into each other later that night. She met Susan and the rest of the group for dinner after the opening; she and Tom sat together and caught up. Says Tom, “I knew right away that I was going to see her again somehow. Little did I know that Kati was going to take the initiative to make it happen sooner rather than later. I was flattered; I couldn’t quite believe it.”
At Kati’s instigation, Susan started planning to bring the two together at a party she was throwing. In the meantime, she provided Kati with Tom’s email and phone number. “We felt connected from the first conversation,” Kati says. “It was really nice from the start. We saw each other regularly and got close really fast. It helped that we were from the same town, but we’re also extraordinarily compatible and really enjoy being together.” They went to Susan’s party, two months after their chance encounter at the gallery, as a couple.
Tom as Lil’ Abner in Hastings High School’s 1987 production of Li’l Abner.
Kati as Stupefyin’ Jones.
Their hometown friends are thrilled for them, and have even given them a celebrity couple name: KatByrne.
The former rocker had morphed into an audio-visual systems engineer who now works for a consulting firm in Jersey City, and the journalist became the director of public information for New York City’s special narcotics prosecutor. Instead of packing the van and hitting the road after a gig or charging out of the house in the middle of the night to cover a breaking news story, these days Tom and Kati are enjoying newlywed life—they married this past June—and thinking of eventually trading their Brooklyn apartment for a home in Hastings-on-Hudson. “I got the running around out of my system,” he says. “Now I want to put down roots and stay put.” As for missing out on some 20 years together, Katie says, “I feel incredibly fortunate to be with Tom, and I know he feels the same. I think we were reunited at the right time—things happen for a reason.”