Katherine Ann Yaw Thomson
1917 - 2012
A July baby wouldn’t do at all—not when the marriage license read January 30, 1917. Solution: change the baby’s birth date. Result: for 79 years Katherine Ann Yaw Thomson, (a.k.a. Kay) celebrated her birthday on November 7. It was springtime in 1996, while touring Ireland that she asked for and heard irrefutable proof that Katherine Ann Yaw, first child of Ann Camille Malooly and Charles Russell Yaw came into this world on July 24, 1917. Her reaction? She clapped her hands with glee at discovering her parents’ little secret. From that time forward Kay strongly hinted to her family that her birthday should be celebrated twice a year, in July and in November. Kay Thomson loved a party.
Kay was the first of four children born in quick succession to Charles and Ann Yaw. Then tragedy struck. Left motherless at the tender ages of seven and six and rejected by their father, Kay and her sister Mary Ellen were taken in by their grandfather, Martin J. Malooly, and their maiden aunt, Mary Malooly.
Kay seldom spoke of her growing up years in Wheeling, West Virginia. A humorous story she did repeat dealt with Prohibition. It was not a family secret that Aunt Mary Malooly always liked a cold beer or two. When the prohibitionists successfully closed down American breweries, Mary considered it a personal affront. Not to worry. A resourceful woman, Mary found a source of barley, harvested some hops, filled the bathtub with water, threw in some yeast and, for the duration, the Maloolys were in the beer brewing business. How they handled their personal ablutions remains a mystery.
When she was 12 years old, Grandpa Malooly took Kay out into the mountainous hills that surround the City of Wheeling and taught her to drive. As she described it, He sat me behind the steering wheel which I looked through rather than over and said, ‘Take us home’. Clutch, shift, gas and go—whoopee! Among the breath-taking thrills of learning to drive in those hills Kay gained an uncommon skill behind the wheel. Leaving high school without completing her senior year, Kay worked in the office of an over-the-road trucking company. What she really wanted to do was to drive one of those big rigs, an occupation frowned on for women in the 1930s. She never lost the love of driving the open road. When time and money allowed, she traveled the country west to east, traveling mostly at night, sharing the road with her coveted big rigs. Kay became famous for her short-cuts that added hours to any journey. Driving down the road [she’d] get the feeling…………of those old country roads…………West Virginia, almost heaven…………take me home country roads (John Denver). With more than a little chagrin, Kay gave up driving at the age of 92.
Mischievous, outgoing and fun-loving, Kay grew into a dark-haired, blue-eyed, porcelain- skinned beauty. She attended various schools but the one that exerted a lifetime influence was Mount De Chantal Academy. It was at the Mount, through her classmate and friend, Margaret Thomson, that Kay met her future husband, Charles. An initial attraction to one another grew into a union of love that would mock the bindings of mortality.
Kay also worked as an assistant society editor of the Wheeling News-Register. One 1935 column published in the society pages was long-remembered by the Visitation nuns at the Mount. Kay’s cohort in
this well-kept secret, Regina Slater, nervously warned her that we could get excommunicated for this or worse. Cross your heart and hope to die you will never tell anyone we did this. In that column each consecrated, semi-cloistered teaching nun had been paired with a male guest attending the annual spring ball. Regina, a friend to Kay for life, went on to become a Visitation nun and eventually the Mother Superior of that Wheeling Monastery.
||Just after her 22nd non-birthday, on November 18, 1939, Charles Hazzard Thomson and Katherine Ann Yaw were married at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Wheeling, West Virginia. And two shall become one (Mark 10:8) and from their union posterity shall spring (Clarke Commentary).
Establishing their household in St. Louis, Missouri, soon two baby girls filled their third floor apartment on Maple Avenue—Marianne (Ann) and Margaret Jane (Peggy).
Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans (John Lennon). World War II was not in their plans but it happened. In December of 1943 Charles enlisted in the United States Navy and patrolled the Pacific on the USS Von Valkenburgh until December of 1945. His ship saw action at both Iwo Jima and Nagasaki. To supplement their meager military income, Kay began to knit baby booties and blankets for the boutique at Famous Barr. Her beautiful items were so popular she was able to sell everything she could produce.
Late in 1944 the small family moved to Overland, Missouri. The family expanded with the birth of three sons—Joseph Russell, Charles Richard and Nicholas Dean. Life centered on All Souls, their Catholic parish. The girls attended the parish school. Charles joined the Holy Name Society. Both Charles and Kay were active members of the Parents’ Club where both held club offices. Kay became the perennial Girl Scout Leader. Kay never hesitated to take her very large troops out to her favorite state park, Rockwoods Reservation, for day camping and cookouts. She would spend a week making lists, going shopping and packing supplies anticipating the pleasure of guiding the scouts through the caverns, learning outdoor cooking and concluding the day with the luscious taste of melt-in-your-mouth s’mores. Kay took the Girl Scouts on other outings. Once she took her troop to a baseball game at Sportsmans Park. After the girls were seated she ran to the ladies’ room. When she returned the Girl Scouts were gone! She frantically searched the entire stadium for her missing Girl Scouts. They were nowhere to be found. With a heavy heart she retraced her steps, and there they were--standing by the restroom patiently waiting for her to come out.
On June 20, 1956, tragedy again struck in the life of Kay Thomson. Suddenly widowed at the young age of 38, she was pregnant and alone in life with five dependent children, the elderly Aunt Mary Malooly who had joined the family in 1949, a mortgage, no job, no marketable skills and no significant income. From this point on, the story of Kay Thomson is the story of a woman of indomitable courage and love. A baby girl, Christina Marie, lovingly called Daddy’s last Christmas gift, was born on December 26. Kay found short-term, temporary night shift jobs and worked while her children slept under the watchful eye of Aunt Mary Malooly. Aunt Mary died in 1957. By then the two oldest girls, ages 15 and 13, were able to take on some of the care of their younger siblings. While Kay continued to work nights at the County Court House, she was very careful to ensure that her older girls had the space to experience the fullness of their high school years even while they assisted her with family responsibilities.
Once the youngest children were in school, Kay looked for full time day work. Hussmann Refrigeration Company was hiring. Preparing for her interview with Hussmann, Kay was worried that her age would work against her. Her dark hair was now streaked with gray so she dyed it black. On the application form she shaved just a couple of years off her true age. She was hired. She stayed with the company until the age of 76, eventually becoming their chief bookkeeper. Not until it was time to register with Social Security did the little lie on her application form catch up with her. With more than a little trepidation, she met with her supervisor and fessed up. The response she received was a laugh and the information that the company had known her true age for years.
When she retired, the entire company, office staff and plant workers, were invited to the retirement party thrown by the company. It was a marvelous tribute to a woman of marvels.
For Kay, family was everything. Living the roles of both father and mother, she infused her brood with her values, her spirituality and her love of life. Always ready for the next adventure, at age 60 she tried water skiing. At age 70 she mounted a mule and explored the Grand Canyon with two of her grandchildren. Generation to generation, Kay was the guiding light, walking the talk of love, attending ever more recitals, ball games and graduations. Each grandchild had the joy of experiencing the Kay way of life.
Kay lived out her retirement years with the same dignity, humor and determination that characterized her entire life. My get up and go got up and went was her favorite way to describe her slowing pace. As her physical pain increased and her energy waned she became more and more centered on her family. Each visitor was quietly greeted with a smile and the raised eyebrows that silently asked, What gift of life are you bringing to me today? Interested in the smallest details, Kay was saddened by their sorrows and rejoiced in their joys. With open arms and an open heart she kept her family centered with her kindness, her generosity, but mostly by her love.
In December 2011 it became obvious that Kay had started on her final journey. Every effort was made by the medical community to find a way to relieve her excruciating pain to no avail. The clan gathered again and again as she lingered. Astutely put by her oldest granddaughter, Kayseemed to have found one of her famous shortcuts on the road to heaven. On January 8, 2012 Kay was finally able to make the right turn into the arms of God and the new life of his promise.
Peggy Thomson Greenwood, January 2012