Getting Personal: Kay Holley

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, Melissa Merli chats with 60-year-old Kay Holley, a teacher in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois. The mother, grandmother and wife from Urbana also is involved in local theater.

What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?

I'm a night owl when I don't have to work in the morning. If I'm teaching, I get up around 7:40 a.m. If not, it's usually around 11 a.m., often later. When I sleep later, I spend the first hour catching up with email and a little news. I really don't know how I get as much done as I do, considering my tendency to sloth.

What do you consider your greatest achievement or accomplishment?

My first instinct is to say my wonderful kids, Kayti and Nathan, but they aren't really my accomplishment. So I will say that my greatest accomplishment has been having so many dreams come true. When I was 13 or so, I said I wanted to either teach college or be a counselor when I grew up, and I've been lucky enough to do both — I worked for 12 years as a sexual assault counselor, from 1992 to 2004. I dreamed of doing work in the theater that I was proud of, and I have done that at the Station Theatre. Also, I am married to my dream husband, David Butler.

What do you regard as your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring. It isn't fancy, but it symbolizes one of the best aspects of my life.

Do you have a guilty pleasure and what is it?

Oh, I have many guilty pleasures. I guess the one I'm willing to mention is watching "The Young and the Restless." I've been watching it since the 1970s.

What book are you reading now? What is your favorite book ever?

I just finished "Spies" by Michael Frayn. I directed his play "Copenhagen" at the Station but hadn't read any of his fiction. For a favorite — if we go strictly by what book I've reread the most times — then it would be "Little Women." I fell in love with the March family as a kid and read the book at least once a year for many years. I've read better novels — but haven't loved another more.

Where on Earth are you dying to go? Why?

It's curious; I'm not dying to go anywhere. However, I'd love to do the rounds of all of the major national parks, starting with Yosemite, because they really are one of America's best ideas.

Tell me about your favorite pet.

My favorite was probably our cat, Gladys. She lived to be very old and was the smartest and most interactive cat I've ever lived with. Gladys was actually a boy, but I didn't know that until I took her to be spayed, at which time they told me she was a male who had a bit of a developmental defect. They solved that by neutering her ... uh, him. I never changed her name or stopped calling her "she" because that's just who she was to me. And, though the vet seemed shocked by that, I'm thinking it didn't bother Gladys one bit.

What's your favorite sports team?

I don't follow sports much anymore. I used to love to watch the Celtics and the Lakers go at it back in the day. And of course I root for the Illini.

What would you order for your last meal?

The bottomless cup of coffee, thank you.

If you could be reincarnated after you die, what would you like to come back as?

Whatever I need to be in order to keep growing spiritually. Or a beautiful kitty.

Who are your favorite musicians, and why?

My son, Nate Holley, is a professional musician, so of course he's a favorite. My best friend, Susan Clark, is an amazing musician. I love many local musicians as well: Ryan Groff's voice just kills me. Brandon T. Washington's stage energy is off the charts. Kathy Harden truly is a diva. And there are so many more. I love to listen to my husband play music. There is an abundance of talent in this community. My all-time favorite musicians are The Beatles, who I think of as having created the soundtrack of my life.

What's the happiest memory of your life?

For a person who usually wouldn't describe herself as "happy," I find that I have many, many happy memories. One thing many of them have in common is a sense of community: My college friendship group, the band I was in (both in the early '70s), hanging with my kids during our summers off, working and playing with my theater family at the Station Theatre. I have had some wonderful tribes in which I have felt joy, love and a sense of belonging.

If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite? And what would you serve?

OK, this will be random. I'll go with Bill Clinton, Toni Morrison and Charlie Rose. Just to chat about the world we live in. I would serve something from the grill and margaritas to keep the guests lively.

Which historical figure do you admire the most and why?

While I don't admire everything he did, I am fascinated with Abraham Lincoln. But it seems most people are. The people I admire most are folks who stand up for what they believe to be right and just, despite hatred, fear and danger. The Greensboro Four, for example. Emmeline Pankhurst and her hunger-strikers.

What personality trait do you most hate in other people?

An inordinate sense of entitlement.

What trait do you most hate in yourself?

Being judgmental.

What's your best piece of advice?

I can't advise others, but I am trying to be more present in my life, each and every day. Life is short.

What was your first job and how much did you make an hour?

My first job was as a gift wrapper at Meis Department Store in Terre Haute, Ind. I do not remember my hourly wage, but it couldn't have been more than minimum wage and very possibly less, I suppose. It was good money, though, because it was my own.

What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?

The decision to go to graduate school was pivotal because it opened the way for me to teach at the college level and it brought me to this community, which I love. I arrived at the decision with the encouragement and support of my undergraduate mentor, Sheron Dailey, and my first husband, Mark — and I am grateful to them both.

Do you have any regrets in your life? What are they?

Yes. I regret that I have not been more of a risk taker, more willing to really put myself on the line and test my mettle.

How do you handle a stressful situation?

By seeking quiet, meditative time to clear my thinking and purify my motives.

Each week, we offer an email Q&A with a local personality. Today, Melissa Merli chats with 60-year-old Kay Holley, a teacher in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois. The mother, grandmother and wife from Urbana also is involved in local theater.

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