At Home in the Bay - Nov/Dec 2018
- story and photographs by Ellis Anderson
Like many things in Kay Kell’s life, her dream home started with a list.
Long lists of things to do were part of Kay’s world for two decades as a professional city administrator. Starting in 1989, she managed (in turn) the cities of Bay St. Louis, Picayune and Pascagoula.
When she retired from Pascagoula in 2010, she was praised for “the uncanny ability to get the job done no matter what the obstacle,” while the mayor said she knew more about economic development than “anyone on the coast.”
At Home in the Bay
But the lists of things Kay personally wanted had always been pushed to the backburner. The 2010 article about her retirement referred to the bucket list she’d written down – one that Hurricane Katrina washed out to sea. Yet even after retirement, it took six more years before Kay got serious about her own dreams.
2016 found Kay living in a spacious condo on the Perdido Key beach. While the sunsets and scenery were stunning, she realized she was the only full-time resident in her building.
“After having worked for cities so many years, I needed true community,” she says.
Friends suggested that she unplug and go on a weekend retreat, to give herself a space to contemplate what she truly wanted in her future and where she wanted to live. Kay still has the hand-written pages from that weekend. The checklist she came up with is very specific.
She wanted her new home to be in a small community with open-minded people. It had to be one where she could be involved in civic projects and make a difference by volunteering. She also wanted her new town to be close to family and friends, to be located close to the water, as well as safe and walkable - and to have good restaurants.
It was a long list, but when she thought about it, Bay St. Louis – a city she used to manage - fit the bill on every count. One of her two grown daughters even lived a stone’s throw away.
Kay ended up renting an apartment in Bay St. Louis for more than a year while she shopped for a new home. Realtors showed her houses with garages and no fireplace. Or homes with a fireplace and no garage. But she held out, believing that one day, every box on her list would be checked.
Finally, her good friend, Nikki Moon, owner of the Bay Town Inn, tipped Kay off. She’d heard a house on Necaise Avenue was being built by a couple who had started it for themselves. There’d been a change of plans, so they were going to put it on the market. Kay toured the unfinished home. Although it was half the size of her condo in Florida, the level of detailing in the home made a big impression.
Even the sunset box on her list got a check mark: From the house’s small back porch, she’d be able to see the sun sink below the horizon – at least during part of the year. Best of all, while the yard was small, two enormous oak trees flanked the house.
“I felt at home as soon as I walked in,” Kay says.
But more lists were in store for Kay. The drastic downsizing required that she look at each of her belongings and furnishings to decide which was most cherished and what would be sold. Two lists were made – the keepsakes and the things she’d give up.
A good friend from Texas, Marlene Breedlove, helped Kay with the interior design aspect of the new house, so the antiques and memorabilia and artwork from places like Australia and Italy now mesh comfortably with contemporary furnishings and fixtures.
“No matter where you tell everyone to sit, they’re all going to wind up around the kitchen island,” she says.
On the opposite side, where the house sits close to the lot line, a narrower porch overlooks a hot tub. Fencing and plantings give the nook a cloistered, private feel. In back, the pleasant New Orleans style courtyard is shaded by the canopy of another huge oak tree.
But the porch swing hanging from a stout limb of the oak in front has become Kay’s favorite outside hangout.
“I sit out in my swing and people just stop and visit as they’re passing by,” Kay says. “It’s one of my favorite things about the neighborhood.”
Since moving to Bay St. Louis, Kay has been serving on the boards of the Hancock Tourism Commission and the Hancock Resource Center. She remains a pivotal part of the Southern Rail Commission since 1992, (having chaired it several times in the past 25 years) because she’s passionate about getting passenger rail service re-established on the coast. She only recently resigned after a long stint on the board of Habitat for Humanity Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“Volunteering gives me the chance to work with younger people too,” says Kay. “They have great energy and fresh ideas.”
But Kay’s recently taken on a job that wasn’t on any of her lists. Ever. In June, she was crowned the 2018 Queen of the Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse.
To help out other non-profits, the royal duo also adds color by making appearances at various events and benefits. Next up on their schedule is the Waveland Library, where Kay’s daughter works. The King and Queen will be reading books to children.
Kay’s queen costume has a special significance now – it was designed by her dear friend, legendary Mardi Gras costume designer Carter Church, who passed away recently. She’ll be wearing the elaborate golden garb for the rest of her reign as a tribute to his work.
Kay may be retired and settled in her dream home, but she hasn’t left her lists behind. Between her royal duties, her many board responsibilities and a very active social life (that includes new friends and old), she stays “very, very busy.”
“When I retired, I said I’d look for a job when I got bored,” she says. “But I haven’t gotten bored at all. I feel like my life is just beginning.”