My mother Kathleen Rafferty passed away a few days ago. Here are some words that I shared with friends and family at the service we held to remember and celebrate her life.
We gather here today to celebrate the legacy of a remarkable woman, Kathleen LeHane Rafferty, known to her friends as Kay and to myself and my brothers as Mom. Flight attendant, athlete, nature lover, socialite, believer, historian, secretary, teacher, mother, grandmother, sister, friend and wife. Who was the real Kay Rafferty? All of this and more.
She grew up in Bloomfield, a small town across the Connecticut River. Her mother’s family, the Danahers, spread throughout New England and New York State, so Kay had close family connections in Thomaston, Connecticut, Vermont and upstate New York. She was a member of a family that had celebrated the presence of five generations at a family reunion in 1928 – Kay was there at age 2. She loved to be active and was on the girl’s basketball team at Bloomfield High. She was also part of a growing family, the second oldest of seven brothers and sisters. She loved her family then and continued to keep those connections vibrant throughout her life.
In the late 1940s, she took a chance and applied to become a stewardess – which we call a flight attendant today – and was hired by American Airlines. Kay relocated to Queens and began to fly on the propeller driven planes of the day.
One day, her brother Ed met a young man named James Rafferty of Hartford and thought of his sister. Kay and Jim went out on a date and enjoyed each other’s company. But Kay continued on her path of flying with the airlines until Jim came down to New York and proposed to her. They married in 1952 and began to raise a family from an apartment in Hartford, Connecticut. Kay transitioned from the glamorous life in the skies into the different challenges of being a mom, but clearly loved raising her children. Bruce and Mark followed and in 1957, the young family moved to South Windsor, Connecticut, a sleepy farm town best known for its tobacco and potato fields. Two years later, Mom had a difficult pregnancy and the three of us stayed with various relatives until her son Richard was born a few weeks early.
Rich got past those challenging early days and all of the boys thrived in the small town atmosphere, enjoying visits to the nearby pond, playing sports and having dirt bomb wars with the other kids from the neighborhood. It was a traditional household – Jim worked for Avery Label as a salesman and Kay stayed home to raise the kids. She was the one who mended our cuts and bruises and acted as referee when the boys had their differences.
In the early Sixties, the family joined a new Catholic Church in town, St. Margaret Mary’s and Kay was instrumental in founding the Ladies Guild for the church and served as its first President. She also loved reading and nurtured a love of books among her children and volunteered to help the library grow from its humble origins into the fine facility which took root in the center of town several years ago. We were always talking about books we had read and she encouraged me when I began to do my own writing.
Kay always had amazing skills for taking flowers and other found things and turning them into unique craft items which would decorate our household. Outside, the home was lined by flower gardens which bloomed in all of the seasons.
My mother led by example. She was generous and often put others needs before her own. In her world, everyone she met had some good in them to be shared and more often than not, she found that good and made another friend. I have two boyhood friends who both said that Kay was their second mother – always there to encourage and welcoming them into the house.
Later, I left South Windsor, but Mom helped equip me with the basics to set up my first apartment and I continued to visit from time to time. As her sons left the house, she turned her attention to more work and other activities outside the house. She was a long time subscriber to the plays put on by the Hartford Stage Company and was among the first to see works by attended these plays well into her elder years. Mom loved the water and would venture to Veterans Memorial Park locally or would go with Jim or my Aunt Carolyn to the Cape. She had a spirit of adventure. Jim and Kay joined me for vacations in Ireland, where we enjoyed music in pubs, played a round of golf in Kilkenny and toured the Ring of Kerry. In 1995, we met in Paris and spent a wonderful week visiting fabled places like Versailles and Notre Dame. Mom wanted to do everything and she and I ate at French bistros and brasseries which were a bit too adventurous for Dad.
Mom had also always managed the household finances up until she fell ill from Lyme disease in mid-2008. From this point, I got more involved and she was grateful for the assistance, but sometimes wanted to jump in and get more detail. She always had a mind for detail, which sometimes drove her loved ones to distraction. But it was all part of who she was.
Even in her final years, Mom was generous, friendly and wanting to get to know new people. She loved the community at the Village at Buckland, made new friends and also linked up with other residents from South Windsor. Dad’s declining health and passing two years ago were difficult for her, but she managed to carve out a renewed life with more attention to reading and continued participation in community events.
In recent months, I often took walks – just as Mom had – and dialed her up on the phone. Sometimes she had to struggle to find the next word – but we connected in whatever way she could sustain. I’d describe the outdoor scenes and she’d comment on what I had to say. I will miss her in ways that I can’t begin to imagine.