Column/Haley was a gift to Selma

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 15, 2007

She was born Mary Katherine Wood on March 26, 1917, in Sumner, Ill. It is uncertain when she became “Kay,” but she remained so until her recent death.

There are those who leave an unforgettable, an undeniable legacy to be recognized, cherished and enjoyed forever after. Such a person was Kay Haley who came to Selma well over a half century ago and remained until 1993.

Her legacy, the gift of music, remains. So shall it always, secure in the foundation she laid for it through the years of her life.

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Perhaps Kay Haley’s gift to the people of Selma and the Black Belt may be best understood in the words of one who voiced it in his condolences to her upon the death of the Rev. John Newton, her pastor at First Presbyterian Church.

“Dear Kay:

As I heard of John Newton’s death and counted the great blessings of my early life I soon recalled your positive influence upon me and others in the life of our Church. No one had to force me to come to Church on Sunday. Your music program kept us all on the edge of our seats. I never hear a Bach fugue that I don’t see your busy hands and feet and feel the pounding of my heart.”

– Vaughan Russell

Music director at First Presbyterian, Kay Haley served more than 20 years, and also taught organ, piano and voice privately, giving voice lessons until shortly before her death.

As one privileged to have sung in her choirs, both at First Presbyterian and St. Paul’s Episcopal, I learned early on that she accepted nothing less than the best from any of us. In memory I see still her diminutive figure standing in front, music in one hand as she directed us with the other.

At a false note, off-tempo start or stop, we were corrected with a slight frown , a shake of her head and upraised hand signal. Her choirs were known for the quality of their music. Kay Haley was known as the person responsible for their excellence.

In 1947 she founded the Selma Choral Society, which began the tradition of the presentation of Handel’s Messiah! Christmas and occasionally, Easter. This year will be the 60th consecutive presentation and members of the Messiah! Anniversary Committee grieve that Kay will not be present to accept the honors due.

Her busy and talented hands were also felt in the Selma Arts Council, which she helped organize and which remains strong.

In 1971 she was appointed to the Selma Public Building Authority, assigning to its members the task of planning and overseeing the building of the municipal complex, including City Hall, the Public Library and Convention Center, which was completed in 1976.

Her Selma Civic Chorus was organized as a part of the Bicentennial activities with the first performance at the opening of the Municipal Complex in March 1976. She continued as director of the Chorus until her retirement in 1988.

Music was always part of her life. She served as a board member and former president of the Selma Community Concert Association, a two-term president of the Selma Music Club, a member of the Alabama Federation of Music Clubs and representative of Alabama Church Music Worship Committee, which planned and led the annual workshop for the state. For seven years she was co-chairman with the head of the University of Alabama Music Department and an Honorary Life Member of Alabama Federation of Music Clubs.

After moving to Foley, Kay sang in the South Baldwin Civic Chorus, conducting two concert performances, and in the Eastern Shore Choral Society. She sang in the choir at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Gulf Shores and in the choirs of St. James, Fairhope, and St. Paul’s in Daphne. Her last appearance there was three Sundays prior to her death on July 10.

Her legacy to those privileged to have enjoyed her talent and who appreciated her generous gift of it to all who would hear is an eternal gift to be recalled through today and in years to come..

May God and his Angel Choir bless and keep her.