Family, friends remember Mystic sailor killed in crash

Elizabeth Kingsland, center, is seen with her parents, Stephen and Barbara Kingsland, in this undated photo. The 31-year-old Mystic native and Navy petty officer was killed in a car crash on Aug. 1, 2017, on I-95 south in Hopkinton, R.I. (Courtesy of the Kingsland family)
Elizabeth Kingsland, center, is seen with her parents, Stephen and Barbara Kingsland, in this undated photo. The 31-year-old Mystic native and Navy petty officer was killed in a car crash on Aug. 1, 2017, on I-95 south in Hopkinton, R.I. (Courtesy of the Kingsland family)

Mystic — One afternoon, Barbara Kingsland found her daughter Beth underneath a wading pool that she'd flipped upside down on the deck. When her mother asked if she was going to come out, Beth told her no, that she was a turtle, and asked her to push some lettuce underneath the pool.

"She was always someone else in her mind," her mother said, recalling her daughter's active imagination.

Elizabeth Kingsland, known as Beth, died in an Aug. 1 car crash. The car she was driving collided with a tractor-trailer truck and went off the road, hitting a tree, about 11:50 p.m. on I-95 south, about two miles north of Exit 2, in Hopkinton, R.I. The 31-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene. Preliminary investigations showed she was wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

During an interview at their Mystic home on Monday, Barbara and Stephen Kingsland described their daughter as strong-willed and stubborn, with a lively personality and fierce loyalty, a description also used by others interviewed for this story. Bright and creative, she had a ringing laugh that resounded high up in the air above everyone else's, like a bell, her mother said.

At the time of her death, Beth was serving as a petty officer first class in the Navy. Assigned to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga., she worked for the NSA as a linguist and cryptographer. She served just over eight years in the Navy, a considerable portion of her adult life.

Beth grew up in Mystic and graduated from Fitch High School, where she was a member of the school's International Baccalaureate program. While smart, she didn't care much for school and often bumped up against authority, her father said, recalling a few parent–teacher conferences.

"We taught her right from wrong but otherwise tried to stay out of her way," her mother said.

When, after graduating from the University of Connecticut with a bachelor's degree in linguistics, Beth told her parents that she was joining the Navy, they were dumbfounded. They questioned whether their easygoing, independent daughter would be able to adjust to the regimented military lifestyle. She told them that she thought it would help teach her self-discipline.

Given the nature of her work in the Navy, her parents knew very little about what she did for security reasons.

Capt. Patrick Count, commanding officer of Fort Gordon, where Beth was stationed, said she was a naturally gifted linguist who was qualified in almost a dozen languages, doing work that was relevant to national security.

"She was in the day-to-day business of providing our service men and women with invaluable information that kept them safe," Count said by phone Tuesday night. She often said to her colleagues, when they told her to go home or give it a rest, that the work that she was doing was far too important to let go, he added. 

Beth was a longtime member of the Chorus of Westerly, through which she met some of her closest friends. On weekends when they had concerts, a group of them would "move in" to Beca Poirier's parents' house. When not rehearsing or performing, they'd spend time talking, eating grinders from Reale's Grocery in Westerly, and enjoying their time together, Poirier, a close friend of Beth's, recalled in an email.

Beth started singing as soon as she could talk. At 7, she had a major speaking part in the Mystic Congregational Church's Christmas pageant. Two weeks later, she had a minor part in the Chorus of Westerly's production of "Twelfth Night." When her mother asked her which performance she enjoyed most, she answered instantly: "Twelfth Night." When asked why, she said it was because it had a bigger audience, her father said in delivering her eulogy at her funeral last Friday. That began her association with the chorus, her father said.

The chorus' Camp Ogontz in the White Mountains of New Hampshire was Beth's favorite place in the world, her parents said. Sometimes when kids first arrive to the camp, they are a bit shy.

"That was not Beth," said Ryan Saunders, executive director of the chorus.

She was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, her father being Australian, and would point that out to anyone who would listen, Saunders said. Saunders taught tennis lessons at the camp, and after the first lesson, Beth, he said, was quick to help him teach. She won the lake swim every year she decided to take part, remembered Poirier, her close friend, who added that she envied the ease with which Beth did the butterfly stroke.

The chorus, which has been active for nearly 60 years, is much like a family, Saunders said, noting that Beth "touched a lot of lives across generations."

"We're all grateful and better for being part of this," he said.

j.bergman@theday.com

Elizabeth Kingsland (Courtesy of the Kingsland family)
Elizabeth Kingsland (Courtesy of the Kingsland family)

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