A Musical Friendship

Shared by David Pengra on November 22, 2020
I met Sean shortly after he arrived at OWU, in 1998 or '99.  There was a group of us younger faculty who would lunch regularly at the Brown Jug restaurant in Delaware. I don't remember how it came up, but somehow I learned that he liked to play guitar and I mentioned that I played bass and was always up for a jam with nearly anyone.

He invited my family to their house for dinner, and to bring my bass.  We met Anna Marie, Cria and Siobhan (who was just a baby then). I was very excited to play.  Most musician friends I know are the same way: define "fun" and it will involve playing music together.  After dinner, we sat in their living room, he started into some blues, I dug in, and we both knew we had found a musical partner pretty much immediately.

I've always been happy just to play with friends and prior to playing with him, I'd performed only sporadically.  But Sean was a born performer.  He knew dozens, actually hundreds, of songs.  The Grateful Dead, of course, but also most of the covers that the Grateful Dead performed, like "Mama Tried" by Merle Haggard and "Well Alright" by Buddy Holly.  Plus songs by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, CSNY, the Eagles, Paul Simon, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and on and on.  

Sean had the idea to play a semi-regular show at a local bar near campus, the Backstretch.  It was popular with students and they would even pay us.  We worked up three sets to play from 9 to midnight. We called ourselves "The Professors", and with an eye towards attracting OWU students to check us out, put up a few posters around campus.  Sean talked it up too (this was before facebook). It worked: the place was packed, on a weeknight.  

Sean encouraged me as a performer as no one else had done.  He liked for me to take some bass solos and also to sing (I am NOT a singer.) I appreciated his willingness to let me screw up, even onstage.   

We played shows every month or two for the next few years.  Sean always had new songs to try out.  Many of these I had heard but never played, and others were completely new to me.  Sean knew how to play guitar in a way that carried almost a full arrangement on just six strings.  He had a strong sense of rhythm and time and could get the place rocking with only him and my bass (no drums).  I remember someone remarking that our sound was "almost orchestral."  He also had a good sense of how to pace a set, and how to build excitement through segues (one song leading into another without a break).  Sean used to joke about a group of students, "Professorheads," who made a point to come to our shows.

A few memories from the Backstretch: "Here Comes the Sun" a few days after George Harrison died; Neil Young's "Let's Roll" in our first show after the 9/11 attacks; my son Evan (about 5 years old) sipping on a complimentary Shirley Temple (loaded up with 5 or 6 Maraschino cherries) while we played his favorite song "Mama Tried"; and the Grateful Dead's "Ripple" when Sean got the whole bar to sing along at the end, "La la la daa daa ...," filling the room with that great communal warmth, with the gift that music can bring.

Others who played with Sean or saw him perform will know what I am talking about: his all-in commitment to a song, his talent, skill and charisma as a performer, and his generosity of spirit.  I am heartbroken for his family and his many friends, colleagues and students who will miss him.  The memory of his music will live on in us.

You Will Always Be One of My Brothers / You & Your Family / An Indelible Impact on My Family/Me

Shared by Joshua Spero on November 18, 2020
(Posted on my Facebook page once I heard about such sadness):

A tribute to my dear friend, cherished colleague, wonderful confidante and compatriot, kind-hearted and passionate soul.

Sean Kay and I met in 1993 at a Brussels NATO Conference to start our journey together, professionally and with our families across many cities in Europe, Canada, the Midwest, the Northeast, and Washington, DC. He passed away today at only 53.

We had been in contact quite recently, particularly over his crucial contributions as part of the Europe advisory team to President-Elect Biden...

Such a tragic loss, such an extraordinary kindred spirit, such a beloved teacher, mentor, family man, friend to so, so many -- I will miss him so dearly.

I've posted some pictures on this "Forever Missed" picture section -- for which to remember just a few times of our time together -- whether lecturing at one another's universities (Ohio Wesleyan & Fitchburg State on public service, global security, & education's impact on policymaking); with wonderful students at both universities, with families in Ireland.

May his spirit smile on us, his family held tightly in great care, his impact felt for the ages -- as we try to move forward, always infused with his compassion -- giving us strength, determination, hope...

I will do what we did so many times together -- toast to the wonders of and challenges in life -- and to the generations past, and for SK's impact on our futures!

With deep gratitude, appreciation, and thankfulness for our journeys together. Sending love and care to all -- Josh Spero & Spero Family

Thanks Professor Kay

Shared by Jeffrey George on November 17, 2020
Professor Kay was a great man. I first came to know Sean in his capacity as “Professor” - where he made political science and global affairs come to life with his enthusiasm and passion.

I’m writing to share a few of my stories of Professor Kay, as I’m sure that he touched the lives of hundreds more students in similar ways.

When applying to law school, Professor Kay agreed to write a recommendation on my behalf. He shared it with me, and as a student who nearly failed out of Ohio Wesleyan at one point, it filled me with the self-belief that maybe I was actually up for the task. I know his recommendation moved the needle for those reviewing my application as well. At the end of the day, Professor Kay saw the best in me, and convinced others that I was worth taking a chance on.

After getting accepted to law school I saw him at a restaurant about a year later. I was with my girlfriend at the time, now wife, and he remarked on what a handsome couple we were. Here he was again, just trying to make me look good.

Most recently, I emailed him and asked him for a new letter of recommendation, this time to pave the way for a potential career change. Without hesitation, he graciously agreed, and once again, went about making my life better.

Professor Kay no doubt did this for hundreds of others of students. He was just a guy that made the life of everyone that knew him, better.

Thanks for everything. You will be deeply missed.
Shared by Lily Tope on November 17, 2020
I knew Sean as my best friends dad and a nature loving, explorer. When I would go over to the Kay’s house he was always either sitting in his spot on the couch or he would be outside in his lawn chair with his guitar. He would always say hello and ask how I was doing. Anytime I ever saw him he would put a smile on my face.
I remember this one specific time after a tennis match, he was taking Alana and I home. Instead of taking the 45 minute route on the highway we took the back way which ended up taking an extra 20 minutes. Alana asked why and he said he wanted to enjoy the trees and the river. We listened to music with the windows rolled down the rest of the car ride. 
To the Kay’s- You always have had a special place in my heart. I am so very sorry, I love you all so much.


Love you Sean

Shared by Steven Ruddell on November 16, 2020
Sean’s loss is unfathomable. I’ve spent the day reading the message from OWU, the posts on Facebook, and reviewing his recent messages to me.

What comes to me is that he really lived, every day. I really haven’t ever known anyone personally with such breadth of talent and passion for life, music, rivers, writing, and people.

I’ve know Sean since he was just a very young, towhead boy.  What a beauty he was!
What a man he became!

We’ve all been so proud of him, each step of the way to his extraordinary success as a husband, father, friend, teacher, musician, river guide, consultant, and online dancer!

I have felt amazingly connected with him over the years with three miraculous meetings. The first was meeting in the ice-cream shop outside Yellowstone National Park, the second was meeting on a beach in California, and the third was meeting up with him in Michigan just two years ago.  I feel so grateful for these priceless meetings. All unplanned. And I live in Hawaii and he in Ohio. 

Sean’s contribution is so wide spread and his life has given to so many people over the years, that it is a challenge to even try to include all the ways that he has touched lives and made our world a better place. The ripples from his life just cascade out and out and out and will continue.

Like his grandfather and father, he has left us suddenly. As far as I can tell, a linage of Zen masters and poets.

My heart breaks knowing that I won’t hear from him again in this precious life, that there are no more miraculous meetings to be given, that I won’t be able to give him one more hug and tell him I love him. I know he knew that though and I am trusting that to wherever he has has moved on, he is absolutely shining!

My love goes out to Anna-Marie, Cria, Siobhan, Alana, and Jenni always,

Steven, Sean’s Godfather

Rest in Peace

Shared by Kelsey Ice on November 16, 2020
What a beautiful light we lost when we lost Sean Kay. He was such a warm, open, and loving man who touched so many lives. When he was passionate about something he gave it his all from teaching, to music, to his family and much more. I loved watching him dance and play music, and was always so impressed when I heard him talk about something he loved. He raised beautiful, kind and generous daughters with his lovely wife, and they will surely carry on his legacy and memory, and pass on his gentle spirit for many generations to come. I’m a better person because I knew him, as is everyone he came across. I’m so sorry for your loss, Anna Marie, Siobhan, Cria, Alana, Jennifer, and all other family and close friends. May his music, written word and memories live on forever 

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