A vision in purple with flowing scarves and skirts, Ms Kathryn Stripling Byer, "Kay", passed away yesterday leaving family and friends with a rich plethora of stunning poems. She was the first female NC Poet Laureate and held the position for many years. She was born in South Georgia but made her home right here in Jackson County. She joins the ranks of many fine and noble southern women writers.
We first met Kay when she would swoop into our camping and backpacking store almost 30 years ago. Outside of her family, nature was a best friend and she would stop in often for some little odd thing to make her hike more comfortable. She might come for a water bottle and then stay for a grand and welcome visit.
Listening to her reading her own poetry was a guarantee to be placed right on the banks of the Tuckasegee River, the heights of Wayah Bald, in a field of wildflowers in the Smokies, the hot and dusty red clay of South Georgia, in the midst of the night skies in the mountains...her voice was distinctly gentle southern. Her spirit was also gentle...sometimes. She was a fierce defender of people's rights to access for a good education, healthy food, fair wages, clean air and water and a host of other wrongs that called for righting (and writing).
Kay, yes you were the NC Poet Laureate-a fine distinction indeed but you were so much more. A loving wife and mother, a good friend to so many including me. Thank you for being considered a friend for 30 years and thank you for the wealth of poetry you've left behind and the formidable ranks of poets you've mentored throughout your life. Your written and recorded words will keep you alive forever.