Profile: Kim Cottrell
Kim Heang Cottrell has endured tragedies that most people only read about in history books or view in documentaries. But few people would know this from her warm smile and friendly nature.
She lived through Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia — notorious for murdering two million of the country's natives — and still has a gentle soul and love for others.
As a senior cook at the Marketplace at Perry on the Mississippi State campus, Cottrell earned the nickname of "Lil Kim" from students who quickly enjoyed her gregarious personality and company. Little did they know the Cambodian native lost her home twice before escaping her homeland. She also lost her brother and first husband to that government's brutality.
But you wouldn't see that pain today, even though she still has nightmares from those decades-ago atrocities. Today, she smiles and jokes with almost everyone she meets.
"I love talking to people," she said.
Those accustomed to seeing her in a white chef's coat and a black hat may not recognize Cottrell away from work. The talented seamstress began sewing traditional Cambodian clothing in 1982 while at a refugee camp in Thailand. She has sewn traditional Buddhist gowns and other social clothing for hundreds, maybe thousands, of Cambodian families in Alabama, Mississippi and other states.
The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Cottrell a grant in Alabama in the early 1990s to display her clothing and teach others the art of traditional Cambodian clothes-making. She's also a believer in her work. Most of her own clothes, she made herself.
When asked about the creative process for trying new patterns and designs, Cottrell showed humility, shrugging her shoulders and offering a shy smile.
"I don't really know," she said. "I like to try something different."
Next week … Meggan Franks !