Remembering Kay Locke

The following remembrance was given at a memorial service for Kay Locke at Rosse Hall on the campus of Kenyon College on May 26, 2023. Over 120 past members of the Kenyon College Chamber Singers were in attendance and performed.

Returning to Kenyon, two years after graduating, I found myself sitting at my sister’s Baccalaureate service with my parents when I was waved down by a familiar face. I got up and raced over to give her a big hug and we carried on for a bit. We promised to find each other again after the ceremony. It was, of course, Kay who had spotted me in the crowd. Upon returning to my seat, my mother turned to me and said, “Wow. You two were really happy to see each other.”

Yes, yes we were. I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel that life conspired in such a way that I would get to spend so much time with Kay not just in my student days but particularly in the years after my graduation. That time would include visits to each other’s homes both here and in the Toledo area where Ben and I both grew up, some remarkable travel together, and even a three-month stint when I lived with Kay and Ben full time as I transitioned back to Gambier.

Losing a dear friend during a pandemic is especially difficult. What would typically be a time for togetherness, group mourning – even hugs – isn’t really possible. Mostly, we are just left with our thoughts. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that the pandemic afforded the opportunity for much thinking. What do I really value? What do I want my life to look like when we come out of this? My short list included: spending more time with friends, more time helping others, more time in nature, and with music, and that perennial classic – less talking, more listening.

It didn’t occur to me until I gathered my thoughts for today, that these qualities I’m striving for, Kay has in spades. She lived them – and we’re so much the better for it.

With so many memories I could share, this is a nearly impossible task but I will tell you, times together with Kay were always marked by incredible kindness, warmth, generosity and so much laughter. Kay’s smile and laugh were absolutely infectious. 

In 2003, Ben was invited to a conductor’s conference in Varna, Bulgaria. He brought with him about a dozen current and former Chamber Singers – and Kay – who happily participated.

That week, we put together the Verdi Requiem and it wasn’t until I got there that I realized that I hadn’t really ever rehearsed and performed with Kay before. I know I’m quite literally preaching to the choir here, but making music together is a gift.

One day, our host’s pre-arranged daytime site-seeing adventures took us to a dolphinarium – and yes, I’m talking about a place where dolphins perform shows. We were seated in the stands, and above the large tank was a banner stretched across the stage that read, “Sponsored by Pizza Hut.” The whole scene was really quite random. 

And I remember turning to Kay and Ben who were seated next to me and saying, “Well, I guess I just never imagined that one day we’d attend a Bulgarian dolphin show together – or for that matter, a Bulgarian dolphin show sponsored by Pizza Hut!” Such good times.

In 2010, when I returned to Kenyon to work, it was with incredible kindness that Kay and Ben let me stay with them for an extended period of time while my house was being finished.

Perhaps it was our cozy, familial feeling that led Ben to make me an offer not long after which I couldn’t refuse. Ben wanted to return to South Africa and he needed someone to lend an extra hand. Kay’s care was always the top priority. So, that next summer the three of us were off to Johannesburg.

Ben was deep in his music research and Kay and I were, well – we were having the time of our lives. Sightseeing, meals together, we went on safari. We saw The Pirates of Penzance performed by just six people and a pianist. We attended a high school singing competition. Kay navigated it all without a hitch.

Most days, we had a wonderful driver with us, Thulani, and one night, nearing dusk he was driving us deep into the Soweto in search of a church where we were to observe a choir rehearsal. He would have to stop every so often to ask directions, managing various dialects because the roads had no street signs.

Finally, he stopped at the edge of a field and told us, “OK, if you walk across this field, the church should be somewhere on the other side.” So, we headed out across the field, and lo and behold, there it was.

There, the choir held not a rehearsal but essentially a performance for the three visiting Americans. I’ll never forget it. I would glance over, and Kay would be beaming as she took the music in.

One day, we had to arrange our schedule to accommodate our driver appearing in court as a witness to an accident. As Thulani took the stand, I remember turning to Kay and Ben and saying, “Well, I guess it’s just that I never imagined that one day we would end up in a South African traffic court together.” We tried to stifle our laughs, and I took a few photos of Kay and Ben happily sitting in the court’s peanut gallery.

I tell you these stories to paint a picture of the wonderfully vibrant life that Kay and Ben shared. They took so many music trips to South Africa together. They toured with the Libertas Choir here in the states. So many incredible adventures together, of which we here on the Hill saw just a glimpse.

Later, when Kay had moved to her care facilities, our friendship didn’t fade, it just got quieter. I remember one day sitting with Kay in the common area and she sort of leaned over on the couch and fell asleep against my shoulder. We stayed there for a while until she woke up, when she jokingly said to me, “Who are you?”

Another evening, Ben and I were in Kay’s room where she had fallen asleep. Ben was telling me about a mold issue he was dealing with at his house and I finally interrupted him and said, “Ben, Kay said ‘I want to grow old together,’ not ‘I want to grow mold together.”

And over at her bed, Kay just burst out laughing. She wasn’t sleeping at all. She had just closed her eyes and was listening in. She was still enjoying being around friends even if it was at a different pace. I can’t tell you how many times I’d stop by to visit Kay only to find friends visiting, and Ronda dutifully caring for her, and of course, Ben. I’m so grateful for how this community cared for Kay.


I still visit Kay, at Kokosing Nature Preserve. She’s in such a lovely spot tucked just inside the forest’s edge. I take my dogs with me because it gives me someone to talk to about Kay, and how much I miss her. And I can hear Kay saying back, “Keep an eye on Ben for me.”

One last story… There are moments, moments in the progression of a disease, where you realize that you’ve arrived in a new place. For those of us who see people with frequency, these moments etch into your memory. 

One afternoon I went to the bookstore to buy a drink. And when I got to that old side room with the clothing, I saw Kay, and said, “Hi, Kay!” – and then I realized that Ben wasn’t with her, which was unusual at this point. “Where’s Ben?” I asked.

And she looked at me, and said only, “I’m scared.” My heart sank. I took her hand and I said, “Kay, there’s no reason to be scared. Let’s go find some comfy leather chairs to sit in, and I’ll call Ben and he’ll come here to get you. Does that sound like a good idea?” And she said yes. 

So we made our way to those comfy chairs and I dialed a very relieved Ben. I later learned that they had been at the Market and while Ben was checking out, Kay had said she was going to wait in the car. And along the way, she got a little lost. When Ben couldn’t find her, he raced home hoping to find her there.

The reason I’m telling you this story is because I will never forget the look on Ben’s face when he entered the bookstore and saw that Kay was safe. You might have thought that he would have been frustrated, or even a bit angry that Kay put him through an extended moment of crisis, but there was nothing but love. We all stayed there for a bit to catch our collective breaths, and I watched the two of them find so much comfort in being back together.

I’ve said this many times, and I’ll say it again here today. I think that Kay and Ben’s love for one another is truly one of the greatest love stories of all time. 

It has been an absolute privilege to have shared in these extraordinary memories, and to be your friend. 

I love you both so very much.

Please enjoy this virtual performance of “Beloved” by Andrea Daly ’06, written in honor of Kay Locke. The piece was recorded during the pandemic, and performed again at Kay’s memorial.

A second piece, Kenyon’s “Kokosing Farewell,” arranged by Ben Locke was recorded by past and present Chamber Singers as a surprise for Ben and Kay. The project was dedicated to Kay, and also performed at her memorial service.

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