Carole Ashkinaze Kay, 71: Loved journalism, civil rights, husband

Carole Ashkinaze was raised by her parents to believe she had a choice of two mutually exclusive paths in life: She could have purpose, or she could have love. In the end, she achieved both – but at widely separated times.

“She divided her life into two chapters,” said Rabbi Peter S. Berg of The Temple in Atlanta. In Chapter One, she was an award-winning journalist – earning a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting just a few years out of college – and an advocate for human rights. She was the first woman to serve on The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s editorial board, and a friend of such prominent leaders as President Jimmy Carter.

“In Chapter Two, she found love,” Berg said. “Just as journalism was her passion in the first part of her life, her husband Irv was her passion in the second.” She was 63 when she and Irving Kay were married.

Carole Ashkinaze Kay, 71, of Sandy Springs, died Sept. 19 at Hospice Atlanta after a five-year battle with gastric cancer. Her funeral was Tuesday at The Temple. Berg delivered the eulogy. Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care handled the arrangements.

Irving Kay said his wife was devoted to her work, “especially for the causes of women and civil liberties” in the 1970s and ‘80s, “and our relationship. Those were the two great passions of her life.”

She always wanted to be a journalist, he said. “The story I heard was, when she went to summer camp – she was maybe 10 years old – they put her in charge of the mimeograph machine and the camp newspaper, and that’s how it all got started.”

A graduate of St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City, Kay joined Newsday and shared a Pulitzer in 1970 for uncovering political corruption on Long Island.

After arriving at the AJC in 1976, “she was the first to write seriously about women’s lives and needs in any of Georgia’s news outlets … (and) addressed, head-on, abortion, domestic violence, rape and discriminatory statuses,” Berg said in his eulogy. Kay also championed the Equal Rights Amendment, “which most Georgia legislators opposed as anti-family, un-Christian or immoral.

“She urged equal pay for equal work, (and) the appointment of more women to state and federal government,” Berg said, adding that she even crusaded for a women’s restroom in the Georgia Capitol for the small but growing number of female legislators –

so they wouldn’t miss votes while standing in line behind Girl Scout troops.

Kay also insisted that the Journal-Constitution Style pages have women of color as fashion models, according to longtime friend Alexis Scott, a former AJC editor, publisher of the Atlanta Daily World and commentator for WAGA-TV.

“She was totally a journalist, an information junkie, as smart as a whip,” Scott said. “She had great care, compassion and concern for the entire community, but especially for people who were marginalized. She was a fighter for social justice, for women and for people of color.”

Kay received Planned Parenthood’s Margaret Sanger Award, and the National Women’s Political Caucus “EMMA” (Exceptional Merit Media Award). Her digitized newspaper columns, papers and oral history are in the Women’s History Archives permanent collection at Georgia State University.

After Atlanta, Kay served on the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times, and as a media strategist to nonprofits in Washington, D.C. Clients included the American Civil Liberties Union, Harvard Civil Rights Project, and the United Nations Development Fund for Women. She also was media chief of the United Nations Children’s Fund.

She wrote books: “The Closing Door” with Gary Orfield, named Outstanding Book on Human Rights in 1992 by the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Human Rights; and “Because There Is Hope: Gearing Up to Renew Urban America” with President Carter.

While in Washington, where she worked nearly 20 years, Kay volunteered as a literacy tutor, completed an adult Bat Mitzvah class at Temple Sinai, and in 2009 married Irving Kay, a retired oil company executive and widower. The couple moved back to Atlanta when she retired. She joined the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and other causes.

“She had a terrific sense of humor,” Scott said. “One of the charitable things she got me involved in was the Holiday Project. … She and Irv dressed up as Easter Bunnies, ears and all, and visited people in hospitals even while she had her own medical issues.” At Emory St. Joseph’s Hospital’s chemotherapy infusion center, the couple was known as “the Jewish Easter Bunnies of St. Joseph’s.”

Berg shared a message Kay left with him: “It is my prayer that Irv continue to move forward and reach out to our friends. I pray that he will find peace and comfort in life and enjoy our wonderful cats. Irv will always be the most important part of my life. He is my true love.”

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