'Everyone's Best Friend'
When looking at the constant posts and pictures submitted by friends, classmates, and family of Kay Hull Thompson on Facebook, and the enormous number of those posts describing her as “my best friend,” it is easy to be absolutely convinced that she is just about everyone’s best friend! And she insists, “I dearly love every single one of them, too!”
Born and raised in Carthage to Robert A. and Dorothy (“Bob and Dot”) Hull, Kay says she came by her very intense love of family and friends naturally because of the example set for her by her parents and extended family. “My daddy was everyone’s friend,” she says, “and he engrained the importance of friendship in all of his children. He always said, ‘To HAVE a friend, you have to BE a friend.’ He also taught us to show respect to everyone, saying, ‘No one is better than you, but you are not better than anyone else either!’”
“My mother was from a tiny community in Shelby County,” Kay adds, “but after high school graduation, she and two girlfriends decided it was time to move to the ‘big city’ of Carthage. She got a job at Rexall Drug, and one day when Daddy was walking down the sidewalk looking into the store, he saw her and immediately told the friend with him, ‘I am going to marry that beautiful girl right there!’ And he did just that!”
The couple’s family grew quickly with twins Joe and Judy, followed four years later by daughter Kay. “My sister was my first best friend, and my brother was (and has remained!) my fierce protector from the very beginning of my life,” Kay says. “I was also the youngest of all the cousins, so everyone in the family called me ‘Kay Baby.’ My mother was always my very BEST best friend. I told her absolutely everything and saw her every day until the day she died.”
She continues, “When Joe married his wife Theresa, she became (and remains!) more of a dear friend than a sister-in-law. She is so full of energy and life and always in a good mood. We have had no fights or even cross words between us, ever. She was always wonderful to my mother and was of invaluable help to me and really kept me sane during the illness that lead to my mother’s death. She is also in my Bunco group, along with Barbara Ballenger, Cindy Green, Patricia Smith, and 16 other dear friends who are precious to me and who have helped raise and love my children their whole lives. I am still very close to my wonderful sister, Judy. She married Gene Brown, and their family lives in Spring, but they have remained among my best friends, too, despite the miles between us!”
Kay says that even though their home was only about three miles from downtown Carthage, the area was considered to be pretty far out of town. “We all came in on Sundays to go to church at First Baptist, and Mother usually came in one other time each week with us kids,” she recalls. “Before we went to school, most of our friends were ones we met through the church, and I am still close friends with all of them. Families had the choice back then of whether to send their children to kindergarten or not, and my father just said, ‘Daddy’s baby does not need to go to school yet. She needs to stay home with me for another year!’ I think I was the only one in the Class of 1974 who didn’t go, but once I got to first grade, all those kids in my class became like family to me, and they still are. I love them so much and think they are all great people, and if they’re not, I don’t want to know about it!”
Inelementary school, Blue Birds and Camp Fire were among the highlights of Kay’s activities. “My mother couldn’t swim,” she says, “so she was determined for her children to learn. We first had lessons with Lou Tatum and Ruth Lawson at the City Pool, then at Camp Fire Camp every year. I loved any kind of water, and if there was water around, I was in it!”
Another favorite activity was sleepovers at friends’ houses. She says, “Nearly every weekend I would go home from school with Joni Willis or Sharlet Williams or Perri Parker on Friday afternoon and stay until Sunday afternoon. Because we lived ‘out’ and had ‘country stuff’ at our house—cows, horses, and gardens—my friends really didn’t want to come home with me to spend the night until we were teenagers and they wanted to date my brother!”
She adds, “I still talk to most of my close childhood friends most every day, and Perri probably five or six times a day. And when I don’t see some of them for awhile, the passage of time makes no difference; we can just pick up again right where we left off. Another close lifelong friend was the beautiful and gracious Diana Davis, who was the most incredible conversationalist I ever knew. When we were together, I didn’t even have to talk much; I just enjoyed listening to everything she had to say. She passed away a few years ago, and I still miss her so much. The day she died, I leaned over to kiss her and told her I’d see her in the morning, and she shook her head, saying, ‘No, but I’ll see you again one day.’ She passed away a few hours later.”
She recalls a very special day in seventh grade. “My dad and Frank Willis, Sr. had been very good friends forever, and their family was moving back to Carthage from Lafayette. Daddy told me that a girl named Joni Willis would be coming that day as a new student, and he wanted me to introduce myself to her and introduce her to everyone at school and make sure she felt at home. What a blessing that was! We were inseparable the rest of our school years, and still today if I need lifting up, that’s who I go to!”
In junior high school Kay was a cheerleader, and in high school was in the pep squad and enjoyed going to the football games and other activities, but her real passion was playing basketball under the leadership of Sandra Walker. “Words can’t describe what an amazing influence she was on me!” she says. “I absolutely loved and idolized her, and as much as I didn’t want to disappoint Mother and Daddy, that’s how much I didn’t ever want to disappoint her or let her down!” As might be expected, Kay’s high school basketball friends are still among her close friends now. “One of them is Sue Golden,” she says. “Our daughters have been best friends for many years, and she is the handiest friend I have. Any time I ask her to help me with any kind of project, she is so much better at it than I am that she just takes over and does it for me!”
Kay attended Panola College for two years and transferred to SFA for about one semester before her marriage to John Wayne Thompson. “I dated him for two years starting when I was 21. He had three children, and I fell instantly in love with them, but I just was not sure I was ready for marriage. I think he finally got tired of my procrastinating and said, ‘If we don’t get married in the next two weeks, we aren’t ever going to get married.’ So two weeks later we got married, and that decision was the best I ever made. I told John Wayne that I only insisted on one thing from him, and he said he only had thing one, too. I said, ‘You just have to promise that you will never ask me to move far away from my mother and daddy. What’s yours?’ He looked at me absolutely straight-faced and said, ‘You have to promise me that you will never ask me to hang Christmas lights on the outside of the house.’ I have laughed at that promise for almost 40 years now, but we both kept our promises. Our house is on family property right next door to my parents’ house, and every night until she died, he would say, ‘You need to go call your mother and say good night; I’m ready for bed!’ And I have never once asked him to hang Christmas lights!”
She adds, “I have also loved Todd, Jodi, and Jill like my own children for those almost-40 years! Todd now lives in Forney and has two children: a daughter Regan, who is a phenomenal artist and entrepreneur and who has built a great business growing succulent plants and selling them on the internet; and a son Tanner still in high school. Jodi is a graduate of UT Tyler and is married to high school coach and former professional baseball player Robert Ellis. Their daughter Aubrie graduated from college and is working and raising her four-year-old son Jax. Daughter Morgan is going to college and working, and son Duke is playing baseball for the University of Texas Longhorns. Jill is married to Patrick Lupton and lives in Tyler, where he is a physical therapist and she a physical therapist assistant, and they work together at ETMC. Their oldest daughter Caroline is grown and has a toddler named Corbin; daughter Claire is entering her senior year in high school; daughter Chloe entering eighth grade; and son Cooper entering kindergarten. Kay says, “Cooper and his nephew Corbin are best of friends!!”
Kay and John Wayne also have a son, Robert Wayne, and a daughter, Sydney Kay. Robert Wayne and his wife Heather were high school sweethearts, graduated from UT Tyler, and now live in Carthage. They have two daughters, Zoey (entering third grade) and Riley (age 3). Kay says, “Riley was born on my birthday and looks just like my mother!” Sydney and her husband Tyler Wright both graduated from Texas A&M and live and work in Tyler with their newborn baby, Truett. All of Kay’s 14 grandchildren call her “Kay Kay,” and she says, “I also love being everyone’s ‘AUNT Kay Kay,’ too—to all of my very close-knit group of nieces and nephews, as well as to most of my friends’ children and grandchildren!
Not all of Kay’s best friends are school classmates and family. She is part of a group of ladies who befriended each other mostly through their husbands’ and children’s golf, baseball, and other activities over the years. Kay says, “Someone nicknamed our group ‘The Glitters’ awhile back, and the name sort of stuck. I know lots of people roll their eyes when they hear that, but these ladies are all definitely shiny little ‘glitters’ in my heart! We travel well together and require very little reason to go somewhere to celebrate absolutely anything. They are all so much fun, and we never stop laughing when we are together. They are all very dear and precious to me, and each one has a different connection to me, and holds a different place in my heart, and fills a different friendship need for me.”
Kay has followed in her mother’s footsteps in many ways, but especially in the area of cooking. Each child and grandchild has a favorite thing she makes, with fried chicken probably the highest on everyone’s list, and she makes their favorite things every time she sees them. She takes Duke’s favorite pound cake, cookies, or fried pies to him every time she goes to one of his UT baseball games. “It also still means a lot to me to carry on all the family holiday traditions that I had my whole life with the grands,” she says. “I especially love Christmas, and we put lots of trees throughout the house and have many other special traditions. But when my mother handed me the torch for preparing the holiday meals, I was blown away when I realized how much work she did! I have mastered most of the food she made, but still not the dressing she made for Thanksgiving. For the last three years of her life, I watched, wrote things down, and even videoed her making it, and mine still is never as good, so Thanksgiving is always a bit stressful for me now because of the dressing!”
I’m pretty sure her family thinks the dressing is fantastic because they know the incredible love and devotion with which it is made by this delightful, caring, loyal lady who is a true “best friend” to them and to so many others! Kay agrees that she has indeed had a lot of “best friends” throughout her life, but out of all of them, her faith in God is the very best, and the relationship that really allows all of the other ones to grow in the first place.