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Mr. Kay's Last Day


Dick Kay, 84, recently retired from the Washington Emergency Management Division, the end of a
Career that span six decades across multiple public agencies.

Mr. Kay's Last Day

Dick Kay never really liked using Excel to figure out his formulas.

The civil engineer in Emergency Management’s Public Assistance Division said he preferred the old fashioned pen and paper method, scratching out algebra and arithmetic equations and then inputting it all in the computer databases.

Remarkably, his boss Alysha Kaplan says, he was never wrong.

“I’d go over the formulas again, just to make sure, and he was always spot on,” she said. “It’s amazing. … He manually tallied hundreds of entries over the years. He’s just sharp as a tack.”

“I trust my brain,” Kay said. “It’s the way I’ve always done it.”

At 84 years old, Kay says the time is finally right for him to retire. He says he started his first job in 1954 and, for the next six decades, he’s mainly worked for an assortment of public agencies, including stints at the beginning for the Federal Highway Administration and doing public works jobs in the Virgin Islands. He started with Emergency Management in 1996 as a disaster reservist and became a full-time civil engineer a couple years later.

Kay said he has retired a couple times over the years. The last time, he says he just got so bored he needed to get out of the house. He’s grateful that Emergency Management had the disaster reservist program.

“I was going crazy,” Kay said. “I was a fisherman but didn’t want to fish. I became a couch potato.”

The disaster reservist program was a perfect fit. The program description notes that it’s for “individuals who learn quickly, work well in a team environment, have excellent communication skills, compassion and empathy, and the ability to work long hours.”

That description fit Kay perfectly. In fact, he plans to return back to the disaster reservist program -- but on a much less frequent basis.

“I love it,” Kay says. “I’ve loved the job and the people here so much. When a disaster happens, we go out and do a preliminary damage assessment, a quick and dirty assessment. Those estimates are put together. It goes to the governor and then he or she tries to get approval from the president. It’s very important that we try to get all of the damage we can. I’m not bragging but I think I’ve been pretty pro-applicant. I’m not doing anything wrong, but I’m going to fight until the bitter end to help them out if they’re eligible.”

After working almost non-stop for 61 years, Kay says, “I really enjoy my work and a big part of it was my supervisors have always respected me and treated me respectively. A supervisor has to treat people with respect. Treat your employees respectively and like a human being.”

Kay’s been married for 62 years to his wife Noreen Kay. For the past 53 years, they’ve lived in Lacey.

What’s the secret to a long marriage?

“I tell people we’ve had a lot of arguments at 62 years of marriage, but we tried to put it to bed before we go to bed,” Kay said. “That’s worked for us.”

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Left, Dick Kay listens as friends tell stories. Right, Alysha Kaplan gives a hug to Dick Kay during his recent retirement celebration.

As part of the Federal Highways Administration, Kay helped design and work on building Interstate 5 through Seattle. At a recent retirement gathering, friends and colleagues noted that Kay has a reputation for telling stories while traveling on Interstate 5 – a practical blow-by-blow history of what it was like to build the state’s busiest freeway.

“I was there when I heard about Kennedy being killed” on Nov. 23, 1963, Kay told a colleague.

“What did you do next?”

“It was sad but I went back to work,” Kay said. “We had a job to finish.”

Kay says sometimes he’d get razzed about the traffic congestion problems in the Seattle area today and some of the design choices, such as building the interstate through the city.

“I just smile,” he says.

He says it’s just chance that led him to Washington state. When he was first based on the East Coast as part of the Federal Highway Administration, he was asked where he wanted to have his career. He wanted to take a position in Oregon.

“I was told I got the job, but three days later, they gave it to someone else who was already there,” Kay said. “But I ended up here and I love it.”

Friends and colleagues at Emergency Management say they’ll miss Kay, describing him as a “model of class” and a “great role model.”

“This career has been the most rewarding for me because I’ve been able to help individual people,” Kay told his colleagues.

“I just feel like he’s not only warm and funny and charming, but he also does his best to help,” said Erika Lund, who works in recovery management for the city of Seattle, but made sure to drive down to Camp Murray to be at Kay’s recent retirement party. “He’s not like my dad, but he’s very dad-like to me.”

The one story that stuck with friends and colleagues – and something Kay still swears by – is being able to catch fish by cutting up pieces of Velveeta cheese. As a retirement present, Kay was presented with a block of Velveeta – even though none of his friends were ever able to replicate Kay’s apparent success with his bait of choice.

“It works in Utah; it’s great bait, I swear,” Kay said with a smile.  


Friends presented Dick Kay with a block of Velveeta cheese during
his retirement celebration because he apparently had luck using it as
fishing bait in Utah.