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After Brooksville tragedy, a daughter carries on her mother's color analysis business


Just minutes before the shooting began the afternoon of Jan. 14, Suzanna Greif had left her mother's Brooksville home, optimistic about the future of the family business.

Greif was ready to help break new ground with the relatively small but growing international operation that her mother, Kathryn Kalisz Donovan, had worked more than a decade to build.

Donovan had earned an international reputation as an innovator in the field of color analysis, teaching people how to find the colors that best suited their bodies and, she was sure, their souls. The business, Sci/ART Global, had a solid customer base, but just a handful of employees. They had begun having trouble filling orders.

"We were reaching a cusp," Greif recalls. "We just couldn't keep up."

Less than 10 minutes after Greif left the house on Wilhelm Road, west of Brooksville, that served as the business headquarters, Donovan's troubled brother, John Kalisz, entered the home armed with a handgun and opened fire, authorities say. Donovan, 61, and one of her employees were killed. Two others, including Donovan's 18-year-old daughter, Manessa, were seriously injured. Two hours later, authorities say, Kalisz killed a Dixie County sheriff's captain in a shootout.

Last week, as she sat on the couch of her Spring Hill home holding one of the company's color sample booklets in her lap, Greif declared her determination to keep her mother's Sci/ART business going.

"She's irreplaceable," the 31-year-old Greif said. "No one can know everything she knew. But she left it here to be done. She accomplished that much before she passed."

While Greif works to save the business, she and the rest of Donovan's friends and family also try to heal, and John Kalisz, 55, sits in the Hernando County Jail awaiting trial.

For Greif, taking on Sci/ART means preserving her livelihood and a family legacy. As difficult as losing her mother has been, "It would be more difficult if all of this just faded away," she said. "She worked her whole life for it."

Coloring yourself beautiful

To understand Donovan's business, consider an oft-heard compliment: That color looks good on you.

Donovan didn't come up with the concept of color analysis, the process of finding the colors that complement a person's skin tone, hair and eye color. But the Pennsylvania native and lifelong artist known as Kitty to her friends did create an original, more nuanced system, according to those who use it.

"She's a pioneer," said Lisa K. Ford, a Tampa image consultant who uses Donovan's system as the first step to match clients with the right shades of clothing and cosmetics. "I chose it because it was the best."

In the mid 1980s, Donovan got a job selling one of the first color analysis systems, called Color Me Beautiful, which classified skin tones into four categories. "Autumn" and "winter" were blue-based, cooler colors. "Spring" and "summer" were yellow-based, warmer colors.

The company couldn't keep up with the demand for the color sample books given to clients to use on shopping trips, so Donovan made some by mixing the colors herself and painting them onto canvas swatches, recalled Bob Greif, her husband at the time.

"She had an amazing eye," Bob Greif said.

Donovan got a job in 1985 as a colorist at the Munsell Color Co., where she bolstered her natural ability by studying the scientific principles of color and light.

"I left Munsell Color in 1991 with the knowledge, experience and confidence I needed to teach," Donovan wrote in her professional statement.

By the 1990s, color analysts realized that the four seasons were too confining. In many cases, a color's hue may be neutral, not warm or cool. Donovan developed her own color analysis system she called the Twelve Tones. The system featured eight neutral categories with names like "light summer" and "dark autumn."

"Two-thirds of the population's skin tones are neutral," said Terry Wildfong, a color analyst in Grand Rapids, Mich., who used another system for 15 years until she met Donovan in 2004. "That's why this was such an awakening and the missing link in color analysis, and why it is so successful."

Donovan's color theory went beyond the superficial, though. A devotee of research by Swiss artist Johannes Itten, Donovan believed that physical coloring also helps define intrinsic qualities. Surrounding yourself with colors that complement your qualities, she believed, makes you happier and healthier.

In 1996, with the help of her oldest daughter, Louanna Wilson, and Grief, Donovan wrote and published a book called Understanding Your Color: A Guide to Personal Color Analysis.

"Your inner being, personal characteristics and personality have been perfectly balanced with the tone and spirit of your personal coloring," she wrote. "Now, through an analysis of your personal tone, not only can you look your very best, you can affirm who you are."

She included in the book a personality trait survey. Winter personalities have dark hair and eyes contrasted against light skin and are powerful, assertive, even domineering, she wrote. Summer personalities have light or pale skin with lighter hair and eyes, and are gentle and diplomatic.

Donovan, a "dark winter," cited a personal example, recalling as an art student how she failed an assignment to illustrate a children's book.

"I am the dark type!" she wrote. "The subject matter would have been better suited for the blond type."

Business was brisk

Donovan founded Sci/ART Global as a home-based business in 2000 while living in Connecticut. Her daughter Louanna Wilson helped manage the operation.

In her consultations, Donovan used her custom-made color sample books and fabric drapes to match clients with their tone. The system continued to find favor with color analysts and image consultants.

Amelia Butler is a color analyst in Australia who now trains people in Donovan's system.

"As the image industry stands today anyone can, and does, offer their own brand of personal color analysis," Butler wrote in an e-mail to the Times. "The problem with this is that, because they are not technically qualified in field of color, the systems and tools are inadequate, and the results produced inaccurate. Kathryn has set a global standard for personal color communication."

Donovan also started selling color therapy products such as dichromatic and LED lamps. Just as exposure to natural light is key to human survival, practitioners say, patients can improve their physical and well-being through chromatherapy — exposure to light across the color spectrum.

Eventually, Donovan needed help and recruited Wildfong as her first certified trainer. There are now trainers in Los Angeles and China.

The trainers pay a fee to Sci/ART. Color analysts and image consultants, in turn, pay trainers to learn Donovan's system, and they all rely on the company for the color sample books, drapes and other products.

Donovan moved to Brooksville in 2007 to be closer to Greif, who lived in New Port Richey. After renting a shop in Hudson for a short time, Donovan decided to cut down on overhead by running the operation from the house on Wilhelm.

Still, the company was busy enough that Greif had started to worry that clients were not getting their orders soon enough. At the time of the shooting, one $3,000 order was already a month late, she said. It was probably time to invest in more production equipment and employees.

"I remember my mom grabbed me by the shoulders and said, 'If we can just hold on a little bit longer, the demand is there,' " Greif recalled.

Donovan had also grown concerned about her brother's behavior. An alcoholic who lived part of the year in a Spring Hill RV park, John Kalisz had threatened Donovan, her daughters and Manessa's boyfriend in the past, according to Greif and arrest affidavits from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

"We knew he was going to come back and fulfill that threat," Greif said.

When Kalisz came to the house and opened fire, Manessa and employee Amy Wilson were in the back yard spraying a special clear gloss over the color books. Another employee, 59-year-old Deborah Tillotson, was also working at the time.

Tillotson was killed. Wilson and Manessa suffered serious injuries.

A couple weeks after the shootings, Greif, Louanna and Manessa — who was still in the hospital — got on an international conference call with the trainers. One of the trainers hinted at the possibility of defecting to another system. The sisters assured them that the business would go on.

Louanna Wilson, who lives in Connecticut and owns an acne treatment company, declined to comment for this story. Greif, a former hotel maid who started actively working for her mother in 2007, had considered becoming an analyst herself.

Now she's the company president.

"People don't look at us as a small family business printing off a printer and spraying in the back yard, and I'm trying to make it so it's not that way," Greif said.

She scrambled to recover supplies and her mother's belongings from the rental house in the quiet, rural neighborhood. Some materials were stolen from the garage, she said.

Robert Greif says he maxed out a credit card to give his daughter some seed money, for reasons emotional and practical. He wants to help her keep the business going for her mother, and he wants her to be able to make a living.

"I think it was good for Suzie," he said. "She put her mind so much into that, it helped her through the grieving process."

There are many people glad that Suzanna Grief is making the effort, Wildfong said.

"From a purely business standpoint," she said, "it is imperative that Sci/ART be successful as there are so many consultants who depend on this company for the training and products to keep our own businesses alive."

Carrying on

In the mid 1990s, Donovan rented a pea farm off Lake Lindsey Road and moved there with Suzanna and Manessa. They lived in a barn and had an outdoor kitchen and plumbing, Grief recalls. They charged $12 per bushel, and some of the money would help pay the publishing costs for Donovan's book.

On a sunny, breezy day last month, about 50 people gathered in the former pea field for Donovan's memorial service. Manessa released a white dove, and 14 more followed, lingering over the nearby lake before flying away. Afterward, family and friends mingled under a white tent decorated with dark red drapes.

"Those were her reds," Grief said of her mother.

By then, John Kalisz had been indicted on three counts of first-degree murder: one each for Donovan, Tillotson and Dixie County Sheriff's Captain Chad Reed, who tried to arrest Kalisz as he fled north on U.S. 19 after the shooting. Prosecutors say they will push for the death penalty. A pretrial hearing is set for May 14.

Greif hasn't gone to visit her uncle, but has thought about it. She might attend his trial.

"Just to see him off to hell," she said.

Manessa Donovan did not return a call seeking comment for this story, but is healing well, Greif said. She was shot in the chest, stomach and hip and lost her fetus during surgery. Doctors also worried she might not regain the full use of both legs, but she is walking short distances now, Greif said. Her boyfriend proposed while she lay in a hospital bed.

Greif hoped her sister would be back to help with the business soon. But there are disability benefits to consider, and during a recent visit to Greif's house, Manessa saw the color books she was working on at the time of the shooting and broke down in tears.

For now, Greif is running the business from the Spring Hill home she shares with her boyfriend. She has hired an assistant, is catching up with back orders and has come up with a way to more efficiently put the color books together, she said. Last month, she was able to pay herself for the first time. She still discusses business decisions with both sisters.

At the time of her death, Donovan was trying to get a loan and looking for property to start a color analysis school and spa. That is on hold now, but Grief is already in the process of creating an international online academy to train people in her mother's system.

"She was developing a lot of new things I can't follow through with because I'm not my mother," Greif said. "Maybe 20 years down the line I'll be where she was before she passed."

When Greif works, the glasses Donovan was wearing when she was killed sit on the nearby table along with her photo. So does the wooden box with Donovan's remains and the carved expression, "A free spirit with a mind of her own."

Donovan predicted things would work out this way, her daughter said.

"She would tell me, 'When I die, this is what you're going to do,' " Greif recalled. "The more I work, the closer I feel to my mother. I feel like she would be proud of me and is with me."

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.

After Brooksville tragedy, a daughter carries on her mother's color analysis business 04/24/10 [Last modified: Saturday, April 24, 2010 11:59am]
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