Above all else, Shirlee Zane remembers her husband for giving others the emotional comfort that eluded him in life.
Peter Kingston was a strapping six-footer and native of England who made fast friends of strangers and offered constant aid to loved ones in need.
"He was the caregiver, more than anything," said Zane, 51, a Sonoma County supervisor.
Yet Kingston had since his childhood suffered chronic anxiety and periods of depression, Zane and a close friend said. He took his own life Jan. 18 at the age of 56.
A successful entrepreneur and most recently the finance director at Ursuline High School, Kingston was well-known in local business, nonprofit and education circles. With his first wife Kristina Mailliard, who died of cancer in 2001, he raised two children in the couple's home on McDonald Avenue, one of Santa Rosa's most enviable neighborhoods. He and Zane married in 2004.
Days after his death, hundreds of mourners gathered for a funeral in Jackson Theater at Sonoma Country Day School. It was there that Zane offered a stirring eulogy that has become her new message.
"We need to learn to talk about suicide," she told the crowd. "We cannot be ashamed of the pain in our lives."
Less than four months later, the first-term supervisor and former Council on Aging leader is speaking out about the perils of mental illness, the stigma of suicide and a personal loss she calls "gut-wrenching."
"For people like myself who have never gone to that stage of &‘I don't know how to survive any more,' it's hard for us to understand," she said. "He didn't feel that there was any other way out."
In her first interview since Kingston's death, Zane said her feelings toward her husband remain raw, alternating between "anger and compassion, loneliness and fear."
"You can hold all that together at one time," she said.
She is trying to channel some part of that private grief into a public mission on suicide prevention and mental health awareness.
It's a reprise, in a way, of her one-time role as a Christian minister and missionary. Except this time her sermon is bolstered by her elected office and springs from a cruel personal tragedy.
Zane is a trained family counselor and grief specialist, having once run Sonoma County's now-shuttered Hospital Chaplaincy Services. But even that professional background, she said, left her outmatched by her husband's illness and grasping to explain his suicide.
"I want people to realize that this is a disease," Zane said. "It's not really a choice. My loving, kind, compassionate husband would not have chosen to hurt me or our family or loved ones. He was not in his right mind."
In the interview, Zane also addressed for the first time continued speculation that Kingston, as finance director, was somehow behind the financial troubles of Ursuline, the 130-year-old all-girls Catholic high school in Santa Rosa that is set to close in June.
In the immediate aftermath of Kingston's death, an Ursuline official defended Kingston's work at the school. Since then, however, school officials have refused to publicly address subsequent rumors that Kingston was responsible in some part for the school's demise. Ursuline officials did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment for this story.
The nonprofit Verity runs Sonoma County’s sexual assault crisis center.
Verity's 24-hour rape crisis hot line is 545-7273.