Thursday, April 26, 2018
News Roundup

A complicated, powerful force who changed lives for the better

TAMPA — In the late 1960s, Shirley McKay packed her husband, her toddler and her dreams into a battered VW bug and headed for San Francisco.

They stayed a couple of years, long enough to fill a photo album with their new friends, guys wearing berets and earth-toned sweaters, playing chess.

"These cool young people, at an amazing time," said her son, Todd McKay. "Trying to figure out who they were and what they were all doing."

Ms. McKay would take many more such trips without specific destinations, because to do it any other way would spoil the fun. Even at home in Tampa, she was always moving on with some next adventure: A new pile of books to read in her townhome. Another round of drinks with girlfriends, undertaken with a zeal that defied her age and eventually her health.

Ms. McKay, a forceful woman who found her calling in human connections, laughter and a generous spirit, died Monday, a result of multiple organ failure, her family said.

She was 69.

Born Shirley Casper in 1944 in Waukeegan, Ill., Ms. McKay moved to Tampa with her family as a child. She graduated from the Academy of the Holy Names. She attended Florida State University, but partied a little too much to be able to stay.

Ms. McKay transferred to the University of South Florida, where she graduated. She married Donald McKay, who became a lawyer after their return from California. They lived in Oldsmar, then Tampa, and had two more sons.

She enjoyed motherhood but felt trapped, her options suddenly foreclosed. Domestic life "sort of chafed her spirit, I think," said Todd McKay, 47.

She drank more.

Her 10-year marriage ended. Ms. McKay fought back — and not just for herself.

Teenagers who had gotten kicked out of their homes, or whose homes were hellacious, could take the spare bedroom until they figured it out. Kids not her own called her "mom" for decades.

Two summers in a row she loaded her three sons, then elementary and high-school age, into a rickety rented motorhome, headed approximately for Maine.

"She was totally fearless about that kind of thing," said Todd McKay, a lawyer. The RVs broke down in the worst places, including a mall and a toll booth on the New Jersey Turnpike.

A few years later, Ms. McKay went back to USF, this time to get a master's degree in counseling psychology. She stopped drinking during those years, her son said. She worked for a couple of years as a counselor, which suited her honesty and ability to listen.

Outside of work, she could level friends or family with a blunt assessment or make them laugh uncontrollably. "If you were in a situation and something seemed a little off, I could cut my eyes over to my mom and she was already there," her son said.

"Then you felt validated by that: 'Okay, something weird is happening here.' "

She had one serious relationship after marriage, after which she decided she had no need for romantic relationships. Been there, done that.

She read classics by Faulkner and Jane Austen, broken up by hundreds of mysteries.

She drank more.

Her family urged her to see a doctor about increasing circulatory problems. "This was a very headstrong woman," her son said. "You would say, 'Hey, maybe you'd better get that checked out.' And she would just nod her head, 'Okay,' and not do it."

As the word spread last week, teenagers she had rescued decades earlier learned that "Mom is gone." The postwoman who delivered her mail broke down and wept.

And her sons — two lawyers and a commander in the Navy — are remembering the single mother who inspired the best in them, even as she struggled herself. "Without being self-congratulatory, I think we would all ascribe our success to her," her son said.

Comments
Suspect identified in string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City

Suspect identified in string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City

PLANT CITY — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has identified the suspect in a string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City.Deputies are searching for Majar L. Jones, 43, of Orlando.Jones may still be in a stolen 2002 green Ford F-150 with...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
The Daystarter: Lightning’s next opponent and playoffs’ economic impact; Rick Scott earns political victory; what goes on in that pink house?; it’s draft day for Bucs

The Daystarter: Lightning’s next opponent and playoffs’ economic impact; Rick Scott earns political victory; what goes on in that pink house?; it’s draft day for Bucs

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.• Another sunny day today with high temperatures in the low 80s, according to 10Weather WTSP. Friday brings the possibility of rain, and the weekend brings the heat: Sunday’s high is in...
Updated: 18 minutes ago
Is former Florida Gators lineman Taven Bryan a first-round NFL draft pick?

Is former Florida Gators lineman Taven Bryan a first-round NFL draft pick?

Aside from former Florida State safety Derwin James, the most likely first-round pick from a state college is ex-Florida defensive lineman Taven Bryan.He hopes, at least."That would (stink) if I didn't," Bryan said last month at Florida's pro da...
Updated: 29 minutes ago
The Lightning is fun, but does its playoff run translate into dollars for Tampa?

The Lightning is fun, but does its playoff run translate into dollars for Tampa?

TAMPA — As the Tampa Bay Lightning wait for its next playoff opponent to come to town, the city’s business community — large and small — say they’ve already won this NHL postseason.At WestShore Plaza this week, with blue and white banners surrounding...
Updated: 1 hour ago
SOCom leader wanted to toss Google exec from car. Because he was right.

SOCom leader wanted to toss Google exec from car. Because he was right.

TAMPA — Standing in front of an audience of several thousand scientists, data wonks, geospatial intelligence analysts and other big thinkers, Army Gen. Tony Thomas drew some laughs when he talked about the time he felt the urge to toss Google CEO Eri...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The last cigar factory in Tampa keeps rolling

The last cigar factory in Tampa keeps rolling

YBOR CITY -- History lives here, inside the J.C. Newman Cigar Co.Machines manufactured in the 1930s are still used to pack and roll the cigars, and the sights and smells are throwbacks. Tobacco bits litter the weathered wooden floor, and a pungent od...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Romano: Is it still environmentally conscious if it’s based on a sham?

Romano: Is it still environmentally conscious if it’s based on a sham?

Let’s discuss biosolids waste. I promise, it won’t be gross or boring.No, this is more of a how-did-we-lose-money-again bedtime story.Our tale begins around 2006 when St. Pete officials began exploring a biosolids project. The city was eventually goi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Iron Nun still going strong at age 88

The Iron Nun still going strong at age 88

TAMPA —These smart phones and computers and internet are big annoyances to Sister Madonna Buder.Every time she turns around, there's a message or a request or a question coming into one of her devices from somewhere in the world."What's all the...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

TAMPA — A customer visited Wingstop on Sunday night to pick-up his order. What happened next was off-menu:Robert Williams said he suffered second-degree burns on his back and legs after a Wingstop employee threw hot oil on him during a scuffle.Willia...
Updated: 8 hours ago
FHP identifies driver in crash that killed

FHP identifies driver in crash that killed "smiling" teen

TRINITY — Friends said what they’ll remember the most about Lillia Morris is that she was always smiling.The 17-year-old Mitchell High School junior was killed Tuesday when a sport-utility vehicle ran a red light on State Road 54 and slammed into the...
Updated: 9 hours ago