Kay Wilson, Executive Officer of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology, and President of the Association of College Honor Societies, died of cancer on June 6, 2003, at her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She is survived by her husband, Joseph Wilson III; a son, Joseph, who lives in South Carolina with his wife Jamie and children Jake, Edie, Mary Stewart, and Peyton; and a daughter, Kathleen, who lives in California with her husband John.
Kay was born on September 21, 1939. She attended Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, graduating as a National Merit Scholar. She received a scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), where she majored in chemistry. She earned her bachelor of science degree in just three years, graduating at the top of her class. Kay then pursued graduate studies in biochemistry at Purdue University and Emory University, after which she returned to Chattanooga to teach biology at UTC and at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She was married to Joseph Wilson in 1963, and continued to teach until her husband graduated from law school in 1965. She then devoted the next 20 years to her family and to volunteer work. In 1985, Kay reentered the job market, working in various managerial positions before coming to Psi Chi in September of 1990.
As successor to longtime Psi Chi Executive Director Ruth Cousins, Kay held the position of Associate Officer for one year while working alongside Ruth prior to Ruth's retirement in October 1991. Kay then served as Psi Chi Executive Officer until her death in 2003. Building upon a strong foundation left to her by her predecessor, Kay led Psi Chi to new heights of success, providing outstanding leadership as head of one of the largest and most prestigious honor societies in the world. Kay's management style was both highly professional and genuinely personal. Kay handled Psi Chi's affairs with extraordinary skill and efficiency, but still loved to answer the telephone and talk with students and faculty about their questions and concerns. Although Psi Chi is a large organization, Kay provided for the honor society a gracious, compassionate, and "human" face to all those with whom she came into contact.
Kay considered the financial health of the organization to be a primary focus during her term of service. She viewed the management and development of Psi Chi's assets as the basis for all of Psi Chi's programs and services, and, ultimately, its continued growth and success. She helped Psi Chi develop improved accounting methods and auditing procedures, led the transition to a computerized accounting program, sought advice from a nationally recognized CPA who specializes in nonprofit associations, and promoted a diversified investment strategy and reserve policy. During Kay's 12 1/2-year tenure, Psi Chi's assets more than tripled, from $1 million to over $3 million.
The growth of Psi Chi under Kay's leadership is also reflected in the increase in members and chapters during this period. The total number of Psi Chi members doubled, from 220,000 to 440,000, and the number of chapters increased from 734 to 1,013. Psi Chi now has more chapters than any honor society for four-year schools, is the largest student psychological organization, and has more members than any psychological organization in the world.
With this tremendous growth in assets and members, Kay was committed to providing an ever-increasing number of benefits to Psi Chi's membership. This commitment was particularly reflected in the award and grant programs initiated during her tenure. When Kay came to Psi Chi, the honor society sponsored three award programs with an annual budget of less than $5,000. Psi Chi now has 12 award and 6 grant programs, with a combined annual budget of $225,000.
Kay's organizational and leadership skills were truly remarkable, leading to valuable improvements and changes in Psi Chi policies and programs. During Kay's first year with Psi Chi, she comprehensively studied the history of Psi Chi's Constitution and Bylaws since the Society's founding in 1929. This study led to several helpful revisions over the next few years, and eventually to the hiring of a professional parliamentarian to rework the entire document, with a new Constitution being adopted in 1996. She also worked with the National Council to develop a new mission statement for Psi Chi, sponsor national service projects, increase linkages and partnerships with other psychology organizations, and expand Psi Chi's efforts toward becoming more international in its scope. Psi Chi's first Canadian chapters were installed in the spring of 2003.
As head of the Psi Chi National Office, Kay assisted in the development of new personnel and budget policies and procedures, built the staff from three to five full-time positions, and led the organization in the first-ever purchase of a building to house Psi Chi's headquarters. Her exceptional management led to national recognition of Psi Chi by the American Society of Association Executives as the most efficient association of its size in the U.S. with a staff of only three to four members.
Kay also worked diligently at building good relationships with Psi Chi National Council members and providing an optimized framework for informing and assisting Council members in making decisions and setting policy. Although Kay was, ultimately, under the authority of the Council, she came alongside its members and provided encouragement, leadership, and initiative. She worked with the Council in revising the nomination and election process for national officers, and in the development of orientation materials and sessions for new Council members. She also enlisted the help of exceptionally qualified organizational, financial, and legal consultants to guide and inform the Council in its process of long-range planning and visioning for the future. In addition, Kay assisted the Council in reorganizing and streamlining its committee structure to improve Council efficiency, and worked on the development of regional steering committees to assist regional vice-presidents and serve as a means of developing future national leaders.
Under the leadership of Kay and the National Council, Psi Chi programs at national and regional psychological association conventions grew, not only in the number and variety of sessions offered, but also in the quality of the programs and participants. The increased attendance at these meetings by executive committee members and national staff augmented Psi Chi's presence and exposure, and was accompanied by the expansion of Psi Chi's policy of offering hospitality suites for student attendees and the addition of special convention meals to show appreciation for faculty advisors.
Kay was always open to new ideas and better ways to do things, especially when it came to the services offered by the National Office. She supervised the development of new Psi Chi database, which was later rewritten again to accommodate Psi Chi's growing programs and the needs of the National Office. This database not only serves as a repository for Psi Chi's membership records (including alumni members), but also for information about Psi Chi chapters, advisors, Council members, elections, awards, and subscriptions. Kay also led Psi Chi into the Internet age with use of e-mail, begun in 1994, and the development of the Psi Chi website, which was launched in 1998 and redesigned in 2002, with the recent addition of online registration and ordering. To assist local chapters and their officers and advisors, Kay supervised the revision and updating of all Psi Chi forms and booklets, introduced the Chapter Notebook, revamped the process of semiannual chapter mailings, and helped develop a new Chapter Handbook, year-end chapter reports, and sample chapter bylaws. In addition, she upgraded Psi Chi's certificates, membership cards, and banners, and expanded the number and variety of Psi Chi merchandise and honorabilia.
Kay was tireless in her promotion of Psi Chi and in the propagation of helpful information to its members. The venerable Psi Chi Newsletter (published 1930-1996), of which she was editor, was replaced during her tenure by Eye on Psi Chi, a full-color magazine, and the publication doubled in circulation under her direction. Kay also supervised the launching of the Psi Chi Journal of Undergraduate Research, which has been widely lauded and is now in its eighth year of publication. In the year 2000, she supervised the publication of An Oral History of Psi Chi and initiated a new e-mail publication of up-to-the minute news and announcements, the Psi Chi Digest. To further promote the honor society, Kay ordered the production of full-color posters and brochures and developed press releases for chapters and members to publicize the induction and accomplishments of its members. In addition, she participated in the making and distributing of the videotape Psi Chi: Encouraging Excellence in Psychology, and supervised Psi Chi's sponsorship of The Many Faces of Psychology video.
Kay was not only a remarkable leader of Psi Chi, but also was recognized as an outstanding executive by the Association of College Honor Societies (ACHS), whose membership includes 70 general and specialized college honor societies. Kay served as Psi Chi's representative beginning in 1991, when she became the Executive Officer of Psi Chi. During her membership term on the ACHS Council, she served on the Executive Committee as Member-at-Large, representing the specialized honor societies, and as chair of the Awards and Recognition Committee and of the Long-Range Planning and Strategic Issues Committees. She was also a member of the Fundraising Committee and was a leader of roundtable discussions at each meeting for the past several years. In 2001, she was elected as President-Elect, and had recently assumed her position as President at the February 2003 ACHS meeting.
Former Psi Chi National President Slater Newman, during his Presidential Lecture at the APA Convention in 1998, described Kay Wilson as a leader with "intelligence, good sense, commitment to excellence, and graciousness." These qualities, which Kay possessed in abundance, and in a wonderful balance, had a tremendous influence for good in the lives of all who knew her. And, through her service to Psi Chi, she touched the lives of literally thousands of students, faculty, and others with whom she came into contact. All of us at Psi Chi mourn her passing, miss her immensely, and will be forever thankful for her impact on us and on Psi Chi.
Picture Caption [above right]: The Psi Chi National Office staff is pictured in 1991, when Kay Wilson became Psi Chi's new Executive Officer upon the retirement of Ruth Cousins. From left, Dan Bockert, Director of Publishing; Kay Wilson, Executive Officer (1991-2003); Ruth Cousins, Executive Director (1959-1991); Donna Bolin, Director of Membership; and, Carol Tracy, Financial Officer.
Fall 2003 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 12-13), 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.