Things My Father Taught Me: Kat McMillan

In many ways, Kat McMillan is the archetypal mother. Caring. Gentle. Patient. A Good Listener. A Masterful Leader. And Cool Under Pressure. When we met, she was flitting about, acting the part of gracious hostess at the first NorthernGrade, the once yearly men’s market in her adopted hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She took care to say “hello” to me, and to see to it that I was happy and settled, and enjoying myself. Her care and attention was really wonderful. I watched as she talked and enjoyed, listening to virtually everyone in attendance. She made her way around the room with such grace and ease, laughing, smiling, having a really great time. It’s a simple thing, really, but it’s what I like most about Kat. She works hard, she enjoys what she’s built with her husband Mac — this great accessories company called Pierrepont Hicks — and she finds time to be a great mom in the process.

Kat, whenever you release the PH Conspiracy Tie, sign me up for the first one off the lot, and thank your father for turning off the voices in my head as well.


Conspiracy Ties

By Katherine McMillan

I remember as a teenager, peeking into my father’s closet and finding an accordion of neatly folded, wooly, soft, muted earth-tone sweaters… mostly long-sleeve v-necks, from Brooks Brothers. I can still see the smile on my face looking back at me in the mirror, as I saw the success with which said sweaters complemented my rolled up jeans, Reebok Velcro white high-tops and giant squishy socks (baggy was “in” for my 9th grader fashion set).  Funny how those same sweaters still have the same effect on me when I slip one on now at age 36 – warmth and coziness – reminding me of Dad – and the comforts of home.

His style is classic New York City.  As an attorney in Manhattan for 25 years plus, his commute from Brooklyn Heights is one stop from Clark Street to Wall Street on the 7th Avenue line.  It takes 3 minutes. He favors a blue oxford, button-down collar with gun metal suit each day, save for hot summer ones.  Then his inner Fashionista comes out and he switches to classic seersucker with a floral tie.  He is always at his most comfortable in his Orvis Khakis and pink oxford from Brooks (again).

In our early days of dating, Mac took me to Italy. On an afternoon stroll through Rome, I found myself utterly drawn to a silk tie – a salmon and white repp stripe perched in the window of a teeny Italian shop.  Dad wears it still.  I love this image of him at my wedding.  If you look closer you can see the hand-painted Rainbow Trout and fly-fishing flies.  His best friend’s wife did it for kicks.

I learned to fly fish and ride a bike from my father.  He loves Border Collies, Barbours and Saabs (me too).  He has a pile of books by his bed a mile high.  I don’t think I know someone smarter than he, and I am not just saying this. He analyzes things far too deeply (me too), and has a tendency to snore whilst sleeping flat on his back (unfortunately me too, again).

I will always remember the first time he took me to see the opera La Boheme at The Met.  When Mimi gasped her last breath, the audience so quiet it was palpable, my eyes welled up with tears, I turned to him, to see his cheeks also covered in tears.  And when Kate Middleton got out of her car a few weeks ago to marry Prince William, I got a text at 5am that said: “You were more beautiful.”  Tears, again.

Yup, we’re a couple of saps. He teases me about crying at movies, but he does too. His toast at my wedding to Mac had our guests honking in their napkins… something about his quiet tone draws attention when he speaks.  He is deliberate and thoughtful and I strive to be so myself.  He never fills a silence with meaningless talk.
But instead of going on and on about that stuff, I thought I would write down a classic story for your reading pleasure.

Dad came to New York in 1970 from Norfolk, Virginia, for a job as Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  This was basically a crazy time in the 1970s in New York. He worked with the NYPD closely, especially cases involving drug trafficking along the West Side Highway.  I love hearing about the characters he dealt with and the exciting cases on which he got to work.  He was in the thick of it in New York City as a young lawyer, and I love to hear his stories.

Here is one:

Each newbie in the U.S. Attorney’s office had to serve their time in the front, taking inquiries from the general public.  So once a week, he would sit at the front desk, and people would come in with general questions or complaints about the government.

One afternoon, a sort of kooky Christopher Lloyd type came wandering in, and started going on about how “the government was listening” in his brain… how he knew there was a government conspiracy happening, and how he thought “Big Brother” was watching him at all times.  Conspiracy Man went on for about an hour, with my dad listening in silence, until finally he said to my father: “I WANT YOU TO TURN OFF THE TRANSISTORS IN MY HEAD!”

Dad thought, paused a beat, picked up his phone and said quietly into the handset (to no one): “Turn off Mr. Smithers”.
Conspiracy Man threw his arms up with relief and exclaimed: “THANK YOU!”  I am guessing he walked out a new man.
My dad taught me to laugh at life, but through this anecdote, he taught me something equally as important: EMPATHY.


  1. JFK
    June 18, 2011

    No exaggeration, Kat is my favorite person I’ve yet to meet. And if you happen to come across this comment Katherine, I demand you to introduce me to your Father at once. Drug busts on the West Side in the 70’s?? What a tease! You always get the sense that she is the quintessential mum…and I’m sure Pop has a whole lot to do with that.

  2. esb
    June 18, 2011

    i stole those v-neck sweaters from my dad too.

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