Remembering Kay Langan
By Judy Crystal
Kathleen (Kay) Holman Langan’s long, love-filled life ended peacefully on Christmas Day in her sunlit home surrounded by the art and books she treasured. Born on November 8, 1925 in Baltimore, Kay was a bright, cheeky schoolgirl who edited her high school newspaper (and wound up creating a kerfuffle over equal rights with the local school superintendent). She dreamed of being a foreign correspondent even before she attended Vassar College.
Her dreams changed slightly but her affection for Vassar never wavered, Kay even helped organize her class 50th and then 70th reunions! In response to these and other contributions, the college would present her with their highest alumna awards.
The next chapter began with her marriage to Michael Langan. Kay and her Navy physician husband traveled extensively. Kay’s stories of those early years remained fresh – and funny. Their shared interest in art and architecture, when added to their love of travel and meeting people, would lead to the acquisition of a large, unique and beautiful collection of crèches – and furniture.
Most women devoted to raising seven children (M. William, Margaret, Ellen, Kathleen, Elizabeth, Robert and Stephen) would not have found the time nor had the interest in working as a professional writer and editor. Kay did. She was employed by McGraw Hill and also did some freelance writing. This did not prevent Kay’s involvement in all the children’s activities, her church, the Junior League of Greenwich and the Belle Haven Club.
She was a devoted “team mother” and Sunday School Leader. Her activities in the League `led to their awarding the Betty Hinckley Award to Kay – a major tribute. She also organized a group of neighborhood ladies into a lunch group that did more than lunch and is fondly remembered.
With the children grown, Kay returned to school, receiving an M.A. in History from New York University. Then, she began the Masters program in Writing at Manhattanville College and received that M.A. at 84.
I met Kay through her involvement in Greenwich Pen Women. It is a local branch of the National League of American Pen Women, an organization of professional writers, artists and composers. In awe of the firecracker with a cane, I was terrified when she offered to lead a book discussion group, part of the Greenwich Reads Together program, with me.
On the appointed night I picked her up and we drove to the Library. By the time we reached the Meeting Room I was relaxed, disarmed by Kay’s insightful comments about the book (“The Paper Thief”) and by her silly stories about calling a meeting to which no one came. In fact, after a 25- minute wait, we realized that no one was coming. to our meeting We left our cookies with the staff, got back into my car and talked for an hour about Greenwich, the book, our families, the fact that I had dreamed of being a foreign correspondent, and when we would meet for lunch
Kay was a Pen Woman stalwart. Well into her 80s and trading the cane for a walker when the group embarked on printing a book of poetry, she joined the committee and worked as hard – if not harder – than anyone. Pen Woman President, Sarah Darer Littman says, “What I will remember most about Kay is her incredible sense of humor, her sparkling wit, and the impish light in her eyes as she shared her stories with us. Greenwich Pen Women won’t be the same without her.”
It was not all a giggle: we talked about death, divorce and dementia in a way I could share with almost no one else. Never judgmental, always thoughtful, She listened to me, really listened. She talked about her son Bill who died after a long illness – and a wonderful life. Her marriage to Mike, her devotion to him in his last years were extraordinary. her joy in attending a family wedding this summer in Newport was infectious. Her delight in the marriage of a widowed daughter-in-law was glorious.
(If Kay read this she would chuckle and tell me I was being saccharine.)
As time passed our outings turned into lunch at her dining room table, prepared and served by George, the wonderful man who had been Mike’s companion and now was Kay’s. Our conversations ranged from politics to people to desserts. We shared the same points of view, except for edamame.
And there were emails. My night-owl friend would send 1 a.m. notes – a piece of her memoir, comments on a poem I’d sent to her – and I would reply in the early morning quiet.
I called her to say “happy birthday” just before the “Nativities of the World” show opened at Christ Church Kay was listed as Honorary Chairman and several of her crèches were included in the display. Kay’s comment, “If I’d known how much work was involved in being Honorary Chairman I would have declined.”
It was a fitting honor for a wonderful woman.