Remembering Kay Tiller

Kay Tiller was a much loved IAS member. With no family of her own, the IAS became her extended family. She brought so much joy to the Society. Here, a few of her close friends fondly reminisce about her life.

I can think of NO one in this world who, having known Kay, could say they weren’t impressed by her… and all in such a very positive way, for she was one of the most positive, uplifting, and deeply spiritual persons whom God graced to our world.

So many people continue to carry wonderful thoughts of Kay, as she was such a strong inspiration to so many… myself being one of them. We both dearly love(d) life and shared such a short time of it knowing each other.

From her “Gravel Gerty,” Louis Armstrong-ish throaty renditions of “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey” at the annual IAS talent show to her photos and reminiscings of her trips to her adopted Irish homeland, Kay embodied all that was American Irishness, and seemed to live that outlook every day.

Kay and I both loved our Scotch whiskey, however, and over the years it became a tradition, savored just by the two of us, to share some of the Scotch “tipple” (straight, of course, for we’re both purists! ), having a toast from my flask brought to the yearly St. Patrick’s Day Ball held by the IAS every year. Kay always had that special twinkle of anticipation in her eyes when, every year, I’d approach her table at the Ball, produce the flask, and say, “Well, Kay, it’s that time again.” There something to be said for a woman who drinks good Scotch whiskey, choosing on those occasions to pass up the Irish version around nearby!

It was this particular reason that I produced the flask of really good single malt Scotch at her funeral graveside… something I’d never done previously… and those few hearty fellow IAS souls around and I remained there to share a final toast to her. Those few assembled all knew at that moment she was right there with us, sharing that good Scotch, and enjoying the special camaraderie we’ve all shared for so many years.

In her Irishness, Kay reveled in the typical Irish love of God and His gift of “life to the fullest,” and God so smiled upon her to be such a role model for the rest of us. When He gave Kay lemons in her life, she turned around and made the sweetest lemonade.

She will always be so very fondly remembered amongst her Irish-American friends who remain here behind. I’m sure God Himself has, by this time, become a Scotch whisky connoisseur from Kay’s tutelage, and loves hearing that distinct, gravelly “Bill Bailey” at those corresponding talent shows, bellowed from the Irish side of Heaven.

Vince Zubras

What do I remember about Kay Tiller?  Her constant hugs for everyone she met, that husky voice, her dedication to all things Irish and to the Press Club of Dallas, her devotion to her public relations clients, her pleasure in travel, photography and the company of friends, and her cats.

I’m not sure when or where we met, somewhere in the 70’s, I guess, and probably at a Press Club function. We both did a lot of work for real estate and landscape architecture firms over the years and always talked shop.  She often said she’d “will” me her clients but when the time came, I was so busy helping her executor wind down her affairs, clean out her house and find new homes for the cats that picking up her clients was way down on my list of priorities.

We also shared a love of travel, though as a single mom with two young daughters those early years of our friendship, most of my travel was vicariously through Kay’s excursions. I still think of her in connection with Red River, New Mexico, one of her clients, and she loved the mountains and wide open spaces.

The Press Club hosted Heritage Luncheons, to honor longtime members and Kay chaired that committee for a number of years. Several members of that committee conspired to surprise Kay with a Heritage Luncheon near St. Patrick’s Day one year and many of the IAS folks came to celebrate her career and friendship. It was such fun to see her enjoy the recognition she so richly deserved.

Kay had grown up a Baptist, had attended an Episcopal Church with her fiance during college but dropped away from churchgoing after his death. She mentioned several times that she missed going to church so I took her to the Church of Epiphany in Richardson, just a few blocks from her home.  She immediately joined and I was proud to present her for confirmation several years before she died.  As with everything she did, she jumped in “with all four feet”, and became one of their most faithful and dedicated members. The priest who conducted her funeral knew her well and it was a loving tribute.

With no family, Kay feared dying alone so I said a small, “Thank You, God”, when a friend called to tell me she had died amongst her closest friends at the IAS meeting. Vince Zubras’ mournful bagpipe tribute still brings tears to my eyes as I think of her funeral. Kay hated being alone, so several of us stayed till her grave was closed and shared his Scotch whiskey to toast a wonderful lady..

She’ll always be remembered by those whose lives she touched

Liz Oliphant

Dallas public relations executive, photo enthusiast Kay Tiller dies.

Rites set for woman whose interests ranged from birds to landscaping.

Joe Simnacher : Dallas Morning News      5/4/1999

Kay Tiller was probably as close to heaven as she could get in North Dallas on Sunday evening when she died of a heart attack. Among her passions – the Audubon Society, photography, landscape architecture and making friends – none was greater than the Irish-American Society. On Sunday, she had just finished two songs – “Mood Indigo” and “Basin Street Blues” – with her signature deep, gravelly voice for the Irish group’s annual amateur night. “She was having the time of her life,” said her friend, Rose Foley. “This is what she enjoyed doing.” After dinner, as members took down decorations to the strains of swing-era music, Ms. Tiller was visiting with Ms. Foley and another friend, when she slumped over in her chair. “Everything just seemed like God wanted all of us to be there for her,” said Ms. Foley, who co-chairs the Irish-American Society in Dallas with her husband, Les Foley. Services for Ms. Tiller, 73, will be at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Richardson. She will be buried in Restland Memorial Park. “Kay had a giving heart that was even bigger than her voice,” said Ralph Langer, recently retired executive vice president and editor of The Dallas Morning News. “She was a strong and independent woman her entire life, before that was common. She was a unique person whose friendship I and many others will miss.” Ms. Tiller was orphaned at birth in Parkland Memorial Hospital on Nov. 11, 1925. Her father, an Irish immigrant, died before she was born, and her mother died giving birth. She was taken to Hope Cottage Orphanage, where, at the age of 4 months, she was adopted by Frank and Blanche Tiller of Rosenberg, Texas. Ms. Tiller attended Rosenberg public schools until 1938, when Blanche Tiller became ill and Kay was sent to boarding school at the San Marcos Baptist Academy in San Marcos. Ms. Tiller attended finishing school at Whitworth College in Mississippi and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Texas in 1946. During her junior year at UT, Ms. Tiller became engaged to a soldier, Ray Richardson, who was killed during World War II. When she died Sunday evening in Dallas, Ms. Tiller was still wearing the engagement ring her fiance had given her more than 50 years before. After graduating from UT, Ms. Tiller worked for newspapers in Mississippi and Richardson. She was even a partner in a cattle ranch briefly, before working as a free-lance writer in Santa Fe, N.M.

In 1970, Ms. Tiller returned to Richardson, where she worked for a public relations firm and became a director. In 1974 she founded her own public relations firm, which specialized in real estate clients. Ms. Tiller’s passions often crossed over. She did publicity work for the Irish-American Society. Earlier this year she had a photo exhibit celebrating Irish culture at the Bath House Cultural Center and the Dallas Public Library. She had published many photos of birds. She was vice president and editor for the Dallas Audubon Society. “I can never see or read about whooping cranes, Texas wildflowers or Ireland without thinking of Kay Tiller,” said Dallas Morning News travel editor Karen Jordan. “She was well versed in all three subjects, and she captured them well in her photographs.” Sometimes, there seemed to be no end to the ties Ms. Tiller could create. She became interested in landscape architecture while working for a client, Myrick-Newman-Dahlberg & Partners in 1980. Last month, a University of Texas at Arlington student, D.J. Schoneweis , received the first Kay Tiller Scholarship for Landscape Architecture. Ms. Tiller, who was editor of school newspapers at both her high school and UT, also retained close ties with the working press. For years she was a mainstay of the Dallas Press Club. Just two weeks ago she was emcee for a luncheon honoring Mr. Langer. Ms. Tiller had been an active member of the Church of the Epiphany since February 1997, revisiting the faith she had found with her fiance. Ms. Tiller leaves no immediate survivors. Memorials may be made to the Kay Tiller Scholarship for Landscape Architecture, P.O. Box 19108, Arlington, Texas 76019-0108; or the Dallas Press Club Foundation, 2506 McKinney Ave., Suite 6, Dallas, Texas 75201.


I just finished re-reading Kay Tiller’s obituary again and I’m sitting here with a lump in my throat and can feel myself on the verge of crying.  Memories of Kay came flooding back.  She was a very special lady and is greatly missed by her friends; especially so, at IAS functions.

One of my most vivid memories is of Kay keeping me “honest” during IAS board meetings held in my living room.  She didn’t mince words and would tell you exactly what was on her mind.  Her advice was always valuable in helping us get through the issues at hand.

Kay had a display of her photos of Ireland at the March 1998 North Texas Irish Festival.   At the end of the last day of that event, I was admiring one of her photos in particular. It was a beautiful picture of three waterfalls cascading into a pool of water, surrounded by trees and greenery.  Without a moment’s hesitation, she gave me that photo as a gift.  It sits atop the headboard of my bed to this day.  A wonderful reminder of a woman with a giving heart.

Taped to the back of this picture is the following write-up::


This multi-talented Dallas public relations maven has done a lot of things in her 72 years: trained cutting horses, run a sprawling ranch, edited a country newspaper, crisscrossed the U.S. and Europe, filled publications with her work as a photojournalist, built a firm specializing in real estate PR.  But perhaps her favorite thing of all simply is being Irish.

Adopted as an infant from Hope Cottage in 1926, Kathleen later learned that her young parents, Irish immigrants, had died.  Her birth name was McNeill.  St. Patrick’s Day became a major holiday.  At a time when many people begin to think about retirement, Kathleen began thinking about finding her roots.  She began a systematic study of things Irish, including classes in the Irish language and multiple trips to the Emerald Isle.  The photographs of the Connaught region on display here have been culled from thousands of pictures taken during those trips.  They are accompanied by her explanation of the scenes.

Included with this write-up is a picture of Kay.  In this picture she is wearing a lovely, fairly large, cross on a chain around her neck—Kay was a Christian.

God’s plan for Kay’s Irish journey through this world would make a wonderful, encouraging, movie about a young girl, who in spite of losing three most important people in her life–her father, her mother, and her fiance—went on to serve others and accomplish much.  Her life-long commitment to her fiance, lost in combat, is an example of the kind of love rarely seen in today’s society.

Of course my final memory of Kay is the day God called her home.  I can still see Kay sitting at the table talking to Rose after the IAS Talent Show.  Kay was the final act and gave her usual great performance.  Her singing voice still reminds me of Louie Armstrong, kind of deep and gravelly.  Everything happened so quickly.  There was absolutely no warning, no signs of pain or suffering.  The Lord took her instantly.  His plan on her life had come to an end.

I can still see the church service for Kay.  There was standing room only.  The church was full of people from every organization she touched.  A tremendous tribute to a woman who gave so much to so many.  And, I can still see Vince Zubras making a final toast to Kay at her grave site and playing the bag pipes for her one last time.  Surely, her Irish eyes were smiling from the heavens above with those of her parents and fiance.

Kay, until we meet again, we know God is holding you in the palm of His hands.

Les Foley

Former IAS Co-President, ’98-‘99

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