Thoughtful, charismatic and charming. A bartender with a passion for politics who possessed a gift for making others feel heard. That’s how those who knew David Kitchen describe the Wilton Manors man who touched so many lives.
Kitchen, the communications director for Wilton Manors' mayoral candidate Scott Newton, died Aug. 10 of complications related to liver disease at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood. He was 33.
“We are just completely devastated,” said his mother Donna Kempf. Kitchen’s death was unexpected.
“He was smart, a joker and he loved life,” said his partner Felix Rivera.
“You could be a total stranger to him and if you had a problem he would sit down with you for hours and make you a better person. He was deep, quiet, and fearful like all of us.”
Kitchen most recently worked as a server at Coconuts in Fort Lauderdale, and had previously worked as a bartender at Rosie’s Bar & Grill in Wilton Manors. But he always had his hand in politics.
“Politics was his passion,” Newton said. “I liked his attitude and energy. He was a very kind person who didn’t mind giving up his time.”
Kitchen was born on May 30, 1987, in Mesa, Az. He was a preemie who turned out to be the biggest and tallest of his two siblings. He graduated from high school in 11th grade, and attended Arizona State University on a full scholarship, earning a bachelor’s degree in political law, said Donna Kempf.
Kitchen married ESPN sports reporter Israel Gutierrez in 2015 in Key West, but the two later divorced. Kitchen and Rivera had been together since August 2019.
Those who knew him said he was always thinking of others.
One of his passions was the annual Smart Ride bicycle ride, which raises money for AIDS service organizations throughout Florida.
Friends said Kitchen had ridden in the Miami-to-Key West event for eight years. Kitchen had hoped to participate in the event again this year in November, his partner said.
“Raising money for HIV/AIDS was dear to his heart,” Rivera said. Kitchen’s mother said her son’s ashes will be spread along the bicycle route in November when the ride kicks off.
Longtime family friend Keith Myers knew Kitchen adored comedic actor Leslie Jordan and reached out to the "Will & Grace" star through social media after Kitchen fell ill.
“David said he was always his biggest fan and that he would love to have a video message,” Myers said. Myers said a friend with a large social media presence helped his request get noticed.
Jordan responded with a personal video of encouragement for Kitchen, which Myers played for him at the hospital. An emotional Kitchen blinked back tears as he watched the personalized video.
“Well hello, David. It’s Leslie Jordan. I want you to tell you how much you are loved and I hope you get better and you are in everybody’s thoughts and prayers,” Jordan says in the video. “So when you do get better, I want to arrange a chance for us to meet. Ok, honey, start feeling better. Love you.”
Myers said Kitchen watched the video over and over.
“It was very sweet and endearing. It was very cool and it made David’s day,” Myers said.
Kitchen had met Myers years ago at Rosie’s and the two had been friends ever since. Myers met Kitchen’s mother Donna about seven years ago during a Smart Ride, and when her son fell ill, she asked Myers to walk her through the medical system.
“People were automatically attracted to him. They just gravitated to him,” Myers said. “He mattered to so many people."
Rivera said Kitchen’s smile was unforgettable.
“He could have had the worst day and he would make sure he would put his feelings aside and to make you welcome,” Rivera said sadly. “He had one of the most beautiful smiles I had ever seen.”
In addition to his mother, Kitchen is survived by his sister Sienna, of Mesa, Az; a brother Justin of Apache Junction, Az; two half-sisters, Bailey and Paige Kitchen, of North Carolina; his step-father Rich Kempf, of Mesa, Az; and his father Scott Kitchen.