A Tribute to Michele Kay

by Cyndi Hughes
WLT Executive Director

It’s with a heavy heart that we share the news that Michele Kay, a Writers’ League Board member in 2009, passed away on Feb. 15.

As I’ve been thinking about her this week, the two words that come to miind are “diminutive dynamo.” Michele may have been a tiny person physically, but her inquisitive mind and generous heart fit her big personality.

Michele and I went way back to our days at the Austin American-Statesman; she lasted longer there than my paltry three and a half years. At first, she could come off as brusque and intimidating, for Michele did not suffer fools. But once you got to know, you couldn’t help but admire her curiosity about life and the world and the warmth of her friendship and hospitality.

Not only was Michele  a top-notch journalist, but she was also a true child of the world. She’d live in exotic places like Hong Kong  and Paris and Egypt (she was born there), and her French mother and British father lived in England, and that gravelly voice with its vaguely British accent was unmistakable.

I’d seen her on and off for years. When we reconnected in 2008, I had just taken on my job with the Writers’ League, and Michele was just stepping down from her position at St. Edward’s University, where she revamped the student [click the red “Read More” button below to continue]newspaper. She was looking forward to retirement (I believe that was her second retirement!), spending time with her wonderful husband, Robert, working on her own writing projects, and doing volunteer work. Well, anyone who tells ME something like that is bound to be asked this question: Would you like to get involved in the Writers’ League? Luckily for us, Michele said, YES!

She threw herself into it with her typical dedication and enthusiasm, hosting our first Bookish Brunch during the 2008 Texas Book Festival at her spectacular home on Cat Mountain and then starting to work on fundraising and special events.

Unfortunately, in March 2009, Michele started having headaches that weren’t simply headaches. Around that time, she and I were planning to meet, and I received a call from her, saying, “I’m really sorry but I can’t be there. I have a brain tumor and I’m in the hospital. I don’t want to leave you in the lurch.” That was vintage Michele, calling me herself from her hospital bed and being concerned about the meeting than what she was facing.

Slowly, the tumor took its toll on that brilliant mind of hers. It tampered with her ability to talk sometimes and her short-term memory. Shortly after receiving her prognosis, she resigned from serving on the board to focus on her health. But even in the face of such a dire disease, she took it head on with a clarity and courage that is her gift to all of us.

I really regret that this disease appeared when it did, just when Michele was finally able to do all of those things she was wanting to do. Yet, that diminutive dynamo will always have a place in the heart of everyone who knew her.

Our board president, Louis Brusatti, was Michele’s boss at St. Ed’s and had this to say about Michele “During Michele’s three years at St. Edward’s University, she successfully moved the student newspaper (Hilltop Views) from Student Life into the School of Humanities, worked with the Communication and English Writing and Rhetoric Departments to establish an approved Journalism Minor, and brought a professionalism to the paper that it had not known. Hilltop Views is now a credible force on campus and has won numerous national awards. She was truly loved by both students and faculty, and will be missed.”

She will, indeed, be missed.

For more on Michele, please read the story in the American-Statesman. Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 19, at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Austin.

POSTSCRIPT:  After all of my waxing about Michele’s being larger than life above, when I imported her picture, it came in REALLY large! That HAD to be Michele funning with me.

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One thought on “A Tribute to Michele Kay

  1. How lucky we were to have Michele in Austin all these years! She welcomed me as a knowledgable but greenhorn speakers to one of her St. Ed’s journalism classes and was gracious in her comments and in sharing her students’ feedback afterwards. The memory of her encouragement fired me up even after long days with the red pencil. Somehow, I feel there are many more in the writing community who feel about her as I do. Such a generous spirit.

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