Joe Wilson IV
Mary Brooks Albritton
Kay's Little Pottery Shop
I appreciate the opportunity to contribute to this issue of Eye on Psi Chi.
Appearing on this page are photos of Kay holding her new grandson, "Jake" Wilson, and holding her three granddaughters, Peyton, Edie, and Mary Stewart Wilson. Kay exercised her prerogative as Executive Officer to publish the picture with "Jake" along with her Editor's Eyeview article in Eye on Psi Chi (Winter 1997 issue).
Some few may have wondered how such a photo was relevant to the business of Psi Chi. For those who just don't get it, look again at these pictures and the love reflected in her smile. I think Eye on Psi Chi will never be graced with a more relevant photo, but then who am I to disagree with Kay Wilson?
At her memorial service, one her of eulogists, noting Kay's southern background, referred to her as a "steel magnolia." If at times she seemed to be an "immovable object," it was because she took her time in reaching a decision but once made, she could pursue a course of action with a single-mindness that was awesome to behold. She viewed those with whom she was closest as works in progress for which she assumed more responsibility than was sometimes appreciated. Nevertheless, she had a wonderful vision for us all. She was our potter; we were her clay.
Kay was a proud person, and in her pride was a virtue as she was prideful of others. She was driven to succeed in every aspect of her life, and she was graced with a wonderful mixture of brains, beauty, playfulness, and a sense of humor. She had the strongest work ethic of anyone I've ever known.
She brought those qualities to Psi Chi. Others are better situated to comment on her achievements within Psi Chi. However, her family knew the long hours she worked and the pride she took in the growth of Psi Chi during her tenure.
She was proud of the National Council and of her relationships with its members, which in many instances resulted in strong friendships that continued until her death.
She was proud of the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS) and treasured her friends within that organization. They reciprocated by electing her President.
She was proud of the National Office and its staff, Paula Miller, Dan Bockert, Scott Gast, and Amie Austin. They were her progeny and the beneficiaries of her leadership. Her example is now a part of them just as it is a part of all others she knew and loved.
Enough of looking backwards. Kay's little pottery shop will never be closed because Psi Chi will continue to honor her legacy by addressing new challenges with renewed enthusiasm, sound direction, and good purpose.
In closing, please note that the Wilson family owes Psi Chi a tremendous debt of gratitude for the respect and kindness extended to Kay throughout her entire period of employment. Thank you.
The Perfect Mother
Joe Wilson IV
I have the distinct advantage of writing this after reading what my father, sister, and brother-in-law had to say about my mother. After reading these and listening to three eulogies from her Psi Chi associates, one might be tempted to think that my mother had sprung, fully grown, from the head of Ruth Cousins, her predecessor at Psi Chi. I think it is time to set the record straight. Before Kay Wilson was leading Psi Chi, before she had even entered the workforce, she was a mother. She was, from my point of view, a perfect mother.
Our relationship was an uncomplicated one. We loved each other unreservedly. There were no deviations from this path. No questions of loyalty or jealousy. No regrets or disappointments. Just your standard, idyllic mother-son relationship. Not very good material for a fiery, tell-all autobiography or oedipally driven novel, but I have saved a lot on therapy.
If you read my father's and sister's notes, you probably gleaned that my mother was something of a "perfectionist." This was news to me. I just thought she was perfect, so being a perfectionist seemed redundant. And if my dad was the occasional victim of her "single-mindedness," he has only himself to blame. He chose to marry a perfectionist, and, as I am sure many Psi Chi readers could explain to him, being the child of a perfectionist is far easier than being married to one. Dad does enjoy some sympathy from my wife, who has the unenviable task of being the daughter-in-law of a perfectionist. She may not yet be perfect, but she is getting close, and with perseverance and hard work I know that one day she too could become as perfect as my mother (that was a joke, honey).
So, why would my perfectionist mother give me, her only son, a "pass?" Why don't I remember her ever expressing disappointment in me? Oh sure, there were minor issues. She was rarely pleased with my taste in clothes. Frankly, "taste" may be too generous. I favored ratty T-shirts and well-faded jeans before they were considered high fashion. And the day I came home with an earring was not a happy one for my parents. But these were minor quibbles, and in retrospect she showed tremendous restraint in allowing me to dress like I wanted, as long as I never allowed my grandmothers to see the earring. Of course, it really helped when my sister went off to Africa and came back dressed like a "boho" with her hair in corn-rows. After that, I knew I was home free.
I think my mom saw that her perfectionist gene had been passed down to me. When I was young, I was very driven academically. At age 13, I sequestered myself away in my bedroom and did not re-emerge until the car was packed for college. For those four years, I did nothing but study every weeknight from the time I got home from school until the time my head hit the pillow. It was not hard to figure out where this drive came from. While my mother was busy becoming the senior class president at her college, no mean feat for a woman at a small, southern school in the '50s, my dad was using his own towering intellect to explain to his mother that his burgeoning freshman gut was the result of "eating more potatoes." Although I inherited my father's taste for "potatoes," my mom was willing to overlook this (and the earrings and tatty T-shirts) because I was blessed with a fraction of her drive and intellect.
I did test my mother's faith in the perfection of her son. When I was at college, I had to get glasses for the first time due to an astigmatism. When I told my mother, to my surprise, she sounded disappointed. She just could not figure out how her son could possibly have what could only be described as a physical deformity. Then, she hit upon it. "You know, I think your dad has an astigmatism." There just wasn't any room for disappointment in her son, just sympathy and a willingness to cast blame elsewhere.
So being Kay Wilson's son was a pretty cushy existence. She and my father provided me with enough wisdom, perseverance, and self-respect to take care of myself, as well as a swiftly growing family (see photos on page 7). Just as importantly, they had enough patience and love to support me when I chose not to apply the good gifts they gave me. Little did I know that she had saved the best for last.
When my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, it just did not seem real. She was young, healthy, and vital, due in no small part to Psi Chi. My heart and my brain told me that she would be one of those cancer survivors you always read about. As the bad news started rolling in on a weekly basis, my optimism never wavered. As my mother, wife, and sister figured out that she was not going to be a "survivor," my dad and I stubbornly clung to false hope. I came around when they stopped her chemotherapy and was enlisted in the fight to bring my dad up to speed.
For better or worse, what happened over the next month will dominate my memory of my mother. It was as though the perfect mother had mapped out the perfect death. She accepted her fate, made her peace, and swiftly turned her attention to her family. Her strength fortified us to accept the inevitable. Her grace lifted us as we walked down hospital hallways, and her good humor steadied us to look well-wishers in the eye. Her faith shamed every shadow and doubt from our home. Her peaceful courage comforts me to this day. In death, as in life, she was a perfect mother.
A History of My Mother, Kay Wilson
As Kay's daughter (how'd you like to follow in those footsteps?), I was quite stymied by the thought of trying to contribute something about her. What would be good enough? I ended up with this brief chronology of my mother, sometimes using her words. The quotes from her that I included here are drawn from an "interview" I conducted while she was in the hospital. I tried to capture a lifetime of not having a mother from age 36 on by asking her every question I could think of. I hope what I have written captures just a little of her brilliance, sense of humor, and strength, as well as the love I have for her.
Mom's childhood was shaped by the death of her father at age 8. The result: my mother was continually proving herself by excelling in all areas of her life, including academics, to prove to her father that he should never have left her. It also meant that financially, things were tight. Throughout her childhood, her mother had to rent rooms in their home to boarders to bring in money. Kay went to the local private high school on scholarship. A favorite story is how my mother had to wear Mary Brooks' (her older sister) hand-me-down dress to a big dance. So that it wouldn't look like the same dress, their mother had Kay's photo from the dance doctored to make it look like it was a different color of dress from Mary Brooks' dress.
On getting a scholarship to her first-choice college, Mount Holyoke, her principal and her mother refused to let her go because she wouldn't have enough spending money and couldn't wear clothes as nice as the other girls. As my mom drolly noted, "Grunge was not in back then." Instead, she went to the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and graduated in three years with a chemistry major in the top of her class. She was also chosen 1960 Miss University of Chattanooga. She had beauty and brains.
This background of financial challenge, striving for perfection, and early accomplishments explains not only her incredibly frugal nature and ability to negotiate a good deal, but also predicts her success after returning to the workplace after years as a stay-at-home mom. It only makes sense that she grew into a person who would help a national nonprofit save and create a $3-million endowment while more than doubling income and membership and increasing award and grant programs from $5,000 to $225,000 annually. Psi Chi, you picked the right person for the job!
After graduating, she received another scholarship to graduate school at Purdue University. In a chemistry class there, she discovered the unknown chemical that students were experimenting on to practice their research technique. The professor did not believe that a woman, least of all someone from the South, could accomplish this and told her so. She didn't last long "up there" in Indiana.
Back home, my mother started to consider my father marriage material, after they had been childhood "chums" for many years. When they finally did decide to marry, it fulfilled a prediction my father made at age 16 when my grandmother was lamenting over Kay's current boyfriend. He said, "Don't worry Mrs. McKenzie, I'm going to marry Kay." What a pair of confident parents I come from! After marrying Dad, she started teaching at the university and soon began teaching senior-level premed classes when the chairman flew the coup for a couple of months to rendezvous with his paramour. She stayed up all night to prepare so she could be one step ahead of the students.
When she became a mother, all her energy shifted to her children. She never did anything halfway. Hot breakfasts, chauffeuring us around to soccer games, spending weekends traveling to out-of-town track meets, being there everyday after school to ask about our day, baking homemade brownies--she was always available. She was even present as an assistant soccer coach when I busted my lip (which required several stitches) while playing soccer in sixth grade.
When I graduated from high school, my mother described waking up faced with an empty nest and sitting in bed thinking she had to do something. Looking at the want ads, she thought that "twenty years later with a chemistry degree there wasn't much" and asked herself "what would be appropriate for a Junior League Mrs.?" She ended up in retail and in six months became manager, doubling her salary. A year later, she found a job as a personnel manager with a large company and again doubled her salary. She kept job-hopping up and up (running Chattanooga's U.S. census at one point) until she found Psi Chi. It was a perfect fit. During her 12 years, she treated Psi Chi like her family, putting all of her laser-beam attention and endless energy into the job. The results were fantastic "numbers" that show the growth of the organization. But also, there were the intangibles, like encouraging and supporting Paula to get an MBA and building a wonderful staff.
She had such a zest for life. In May of 2002, I met her in Orange County, while she attended a conference. On her day off, we went to Disneyland and she was unstoppable. Going back and forth between Epcot and Disneyland, I became fatigued. I wanted to stop. Not another ride on a roller coaster, not another hour walking on hot pavement or getting dizzy from a special-effects ride. I run marathons and my mother was running circles around me! She wanted to keep going.
You can see Kay's endurance and sense of fun shining through in this incredible picture of us riding the Space Mountain roller coaster (see photo, below right). When I look back at the picture and think about it, I know her body must have been riddled with cancer. Only a few months later we discovered that she had stage 4 metastasized cancer.
I feel so much gratitude not only at having the memory of all the laughs and fun we had that day but also the knowledge of all her incredible accomplishments at Psi Chi. I especially appreciate the increase in money toward the award and grant programs, knowing that the success she worked so hard for goes back into the students. Given my mother's scholarships for all of her education, it is fitting that it is one of her legacies. Here's to you, Psi Chi, for providing a wonderful opportunity for all of my mom's talents to blossom. It's a beautiful garden she planted, and I hope you all enjoy the fruit.
My Cool Mother-in-Law: A Letter
I thought I would include a letter I wrote to our friends on the evening that I heard that Kay had died:
It is with deep sadness that I write to let you know that Kathleen's mom, Kay Wilson, died this evening after a three-month battle (yes, only three months) with cancer. She was only 63. Most of you probably know Kay only through some of the distinctive traits that she has passed along to her daughter Kathleen--her wit, creativity, and tenacity, to name just a few. A perfect example of her special sense of humor revealed itself during her last week. As her husband Joe and a nurse sat by her side, she let out a huge sigh, rolled her eyes back, and stuck her tongue out. Just as Joe began to panic, Kay smiled, turned, and said, "Just kidding, Joe, you are just too sensitive." Now what can you say to that?
Among her many wonderful traits that I grew to appreciate, I was drawn to the fact that she voted Democrat, if for no other reason than to nullify her husband's vote.
Another thing I loved about Kay was that after her two children left for college she closed the door to her family kitchen. Literally. In fact, I believe their oven had been broken for over 15 years before she replaced it. With the kitchen closed for business it was time for her to start the next chapter in her life and move her career forward. And she did so with the same energy and determination she had raising her family. During this time she began a new career and worked her way up to be the Executive Officer of Psi Chi, a national honor society. Why spend time looking in the rearview mirror when you have such an open road in front of you?
Speaking of driving, there is one thing about Kay I loved even better. She always had a tape of Janice Joplin living in her car's cassette player. Always! Who ever said mothers-in-law can't be cool?
And in her spirit I leave you with these parting words from "Peace of My Heart," sung by Janice herself . . .
I want you to come on, come on, come on, come on and take it . . .
Take another little piece of my heart now, baby!
Oh, oh, break it!
Break another little bit of my heart now, darling, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Oh, oh, have a!
Have another little piece of my heart now, baby,
You know you got it if it makes you feel good,
Oh, yes indeed.
There is no question that the world will shine with fewer colors now that Kay is gone. May she rest in peace.
Mary Brooks Albritton
As Kay's sister [in picture on right, L-R, Kay is pictured with her sister Mary Brooks Albritton and her mother Kathleen McKenzie], I have many wonderful memories of her. One of my earliest images is that of our mother bringing her home from the hospital. At this point my entire world changed. Now I had my very own "baby doll" that I could play with any time. Mother said I never played with dolls after her arrival. Poor Kay!
Kay was very patient with her big sister and would let me endlessly pick out her clothes and do her hair in awful styles. This went on until she entered the seventh grade and had to wear uniforms.
Kay had an amazing trick that she never hesitated to demonstrate--she could stand on her head! If I had a date or friends over, Kay would always come through with our entertainment. The boys always thought this was "so cute," but I didn't think it was. Looking back on our 60+ years together, I realize Kay's great sense of humor even at an early age. She knew her "stunt" would embarrass me, especially when she had on a dress!
As anyone with a sister knows, you share so many hilarious inside family jokes and poignant memories with your sister. I know I did with mine! I miss her terribly.
Kay with her son Joe and daughter Kathleen.
Kay as a high school senior, 1957.
Miss University of Chattanooga, 1960.
Kay and her first child, Joe.
The Wilsons: Kay, Joe, Kathleen, and Joe IV.
Prior to working at Psi Chi, Kay headed the 1990 U.S. Census in the Chattanooga area.
Kay rides a ferris wheel with daughter Kathleen.
The Wilsons: Kathleen, Kay, Joe, and Joe IV.
Kay and Kathleen (daughter) tackle the Space Mountain roller coaster at Disneyland.
Kay with husband Joe and daughter Kathleen.
Kay takes a hot-air ballon ride while attending an ACHS convention.
When Kay visited her daughter studying abroad in Kenya, Kenyan children treated Kay to cornrows.
Fall 2003 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 7-11), published by Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright, 2003, Psi Chi, The National Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.