Gaidi Finnie told NBC 7 on Monday that his sister, Cathy Paulette Hamilton, had died unexpectedly after a short battle with COVID-19.
Finnie shared his family’s story with NBC 7, including a message to young people who might be putting their loved ones at risk.
“My sister was the matriarch and the keeper of the history in our family,” Finnie said.
Finnie is the executive director of the African American Museum of Fine Arts in San Diego. He said he and Hamilton lived through the 1960s riots in Newark, N.J., an experience that shaped his life forever.
“We endured cross burning and Ku Klux Klan as we grew up," Finnie said. "No one knows that feeling of having lived through that directly. It’s kind of shaped who we became."
Eventually the pair of siblings moved their separate ways. Hamilton moved to Atlanta, and Finnie to Imperial Beach, but the distance only helped to unite the siblings.
“We got to be super close; she really was my best friend,” Finnie said.
Finnie said he and Hamilton, a 30-year retired Delta Airlines Employee, traveled all over the world together: San Tropez; Nice, Italy. But her frequent trips to San Diego were their favorite.
“We’d get our best china out, and we’d come up with these exotic, elegant dishes, and we’d sit around the table and talk about family, friends and art,” Finnie said.
Finnie said Hamilton valued family more than anything and suspects a family birthday party in Atlanta is how Hamilton may have contracted COVID-19 in June.
“Her son, who was turning 50, was going to have a party and we all thought -- Linda especially -- ‘Man, what are you doing having this party?’ " Finnie said. "And I think they all went, and they all got it.”
Linda Franklin, Hamilton’s long-time best friend, said she urged Hamilton to go to the hospital after Franklin found out Hamilton had fatigue and low oxygen levels. She said Hamilton spent the next eight days in the hospital and died.
“ 'I love you' was the last thing she said to me,” Franklin said.
Finnie said his sister’s death was a surprise and that the last time they spoke, she was feeling better and planning on soon going home from the hospital.
During the interview with NBC 7, Finnie gifted Franklin a locket filled with Hamilton’s ashes. Franklin quietly cried and thanked Finnie for the special gift.
“I knew how close they were, and I knew it would mean a lot,” Finnie said.
Finnie said he’s hoping people will take the virus seriously and had a message specifically for young adults.
“My message would be to the young people who can recover from it is: Don’t kill off your aunts and uncles, and your parents and grandparents. It is super important that you protect them. You’ll never forgive yourself if you cause one of your family members to perish as a result of you being careless.”