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Kay Ford dies; ex-social worker, mom of 8 was lifelong learner

Kay Ford, who held degrees in chemistry and

Kay Ford, who held degrees in chemistry and social work, died Oct. 20, 2017, at her Bellport home, surrounded by family. She was 89. Credit: Ford family

In many ways a woman ahead of her time, Kay Ford brought time-honored values and the curious, analytical mind of a scientist to raising eight children with her husband.

If she had to be summed up in one word, it would be “inquisitive,” as “she never stopped reading and wondering and learning,” said daughter Pat Henderson of Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Ford, 89, who held degrees in chemistry and social work, died Oct. 20 at her Bellport home surrounded by family. She had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure, her daughter said.

Mike Ford, of Brookhaven hamlet, recalls time and again being told by his mother to “look it up” in one of the family’s two sets of encyclopedias. That, and “define your terms,” she told him, so “we’re both clear about what you mean.”

Even doling out chores was done in an orderly way, using a chart to clarify whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher or help with laundry, Henderson said. The expectation was clear, even at early ages, that she and her siblings would “contribute to the family’s welfare.”

Born Mary Katherine O’Neill on Nov. 1, 1927, in Chicago, Ford, whose father was an engineer, received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1949 at what’s now Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.

She married Laurence Ford, whom she met through mutual friends, in 1952. When she became pregnant with their first child, she was required to leave her job in the patents department of DuPont in Wilmington, Delaware, her daughter said.

In 1961 the family moved to Freeport — and six years later to East Patchogue — when Laurence Ford, a longtime employee of General Motors’ finance unit, was transferred to Garden City.

The couple raised their eight children in East Patchogue, emphasizing the value of education, Henderson said, and modeling “what a marriage is and how you treat a spouse or partner,” Mike Ford said. That, and establishing traditions, such as baking peanut butter cookies each year on the first day of school, and sending the same off to each child who went away to college.

When her youngest child reached kindergarten, Ford started working on a master’s degree in social work at what’s now LIU Post. After graduation in 1975, she began work as a patient educator at Brookhaven Memorial Medical Center, East Patchogue.

This move “made perfect sense,” Henderson said, as her mother had always been “very passionate” about helping others.

When Ford and her husband retired to New Bern, North Carolina, in 1992, besides getting in plenty of golf, she engaged in volunteer work, assisting with a suicide hotline and domestic violence hotline and serving as a court-appointed guardian for children in foster care, according to her family.

Mike Ford said his mother relished taking the wheel of the couple’s silver Cadillac DTS, for their trips to Long Island, as well as for a jaunt to the Grand Canyon area.

The couple moved back to Long Island, to Bellport, in 2014. Her husband of 63 years died in January 2016.

Kay Ford was also predeceased by two daughters, Mary Dolores, who died shortly after birth, and Eileen Mary in 1984.

In addition to Henderson and Mike Ford, Ford is survived by daughters Sally Palace of Auburn, Massachusetts; Shelagh Murphy of Wayland, Massachusetts; Katie Mehrkens of Bellport; Marijo Murphy of upstate Yorktown Heights; son Tom Ford, of Bellport; and 14 grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was celebrated Oct. 24 at St. Joseph the Worker Church in East Patchogue, followed by burial in Calverton National Cemetery.

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