A year after brutal murder, life goes on

Publication Date: Friday Jun 12, 1998

COMMUNITY: A year after brutal murder, life goes on

Wife and 3-year-old daughters adjust to living without Bert Kay

One year after Herbert "Bert" Kay was beaten and kicked to death as he took a late night stroll through downtown Palo Alto, the wife and two young daughters he left behind are still adjusting to life without him.

"The twins still cry for their dad even now," said Meg Kay, 37. "They miss him a lot, and they talk about him all the time. But on a day-to-day basis they're happy little girls."

The twins, Sonia and Nina, celebrated their third birthday this week with a big free-for-all party, said Kay. And despite their young age, they still remember their father and the family trips they took to the beach and to the zoo, she said.

"I'm glad that they still remember him," said Kay, who is only just coming to terms with the loss of her husband one year later.

"I cannot grasp the fact that he's not there. It's only in the last couple of months that it's become real."

Kay said that she is mostly too busy raising her two daughters in their new home in the South Bay and working as a part-time computer programmer to be sad or mopey. Usually it hits her hardest in the evening when she puts the girls to bed and has some time alone. That was the time when her husband, a NASA scientist, would often go out for "thinking walks" to clear his head.

When Kay went to bed just after 10 p.m. on June 12, 1997, she had no idea that she would never see her husband again. It was not until early the next morning that she realized her husband had not come home to their Waverley Street duplex that night. He had taken his keys, but no wallet.

Shortly after 10:30 p.m., police found Bert Kay's body stuffed behind a bench on Gilman Street, just a few blocks away from his home, the victim of an apparently random robbery attack.

In the days that followed, that bench became a focus for the outpouring of grief and support from the Palo Alto community. Flowers covered the bench, and hundreds of people gathered on this usually quiet downtown street for a candlelight vigil to honor Bert Kay's memory.

Meg Kay said the community's reaction to her husband's death was a great source of support to her. Although the family had only lived in Palo Alto for three months, after her husband accepted a job at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, she felt she was among friends.

She was also overawed by the amount of money that poured into a trust fund for the twins, administered by Victoria Kaempf of the Palo Alto law firm Gray Cary Ware & Friedenrich. By October 1997, the fund had raised over $93,000. Kay said she is putting the money in a wise place to be used for future expenses.

In August, Kay decided to move from Palo Alto to the San Jose area to be nearer to her family. She wanted to offer her daughters a permanent home with a yard, she said, and could not afford to buy a house in Palo Alto.

But this Friday, the family will likely come back to Palo Alto to place flowers at the Gilman Street bench. Over the year, the family has tried to persuade the property manager, Chop Keenan, to install a plaque at the bench in memory of Kay, but they have so far been denied permission.

"It's not going to happen," said Keenan, who said he does not think it is appropriate to commemorate every murder with a plaque.

Kay said that a bench has been put up in her husband's memory on a hiking trail in Austin, Texas, where the family used to live. She and her family are pursuing the idea of erecting some kind of memorial to Kay in Palo Alto, perhaps in the Scott Street park where the girls used to play with their father. Kay's brother-in-law planned to contact City Manager June Fleming on Thursday to discuss the idea.

Kay keeps her husband's memory alive in other ways too. To commemorate his 39th birthday on May 1, she sent e-mails to all his friends around the world asking them to drink a toast of her husband's favorite Scotch in his memory. It gave her great comfort, she said, to think that friends from Australia to England were thinking about him.

One memory that she does not like to keep alive is the events of June 12, 1997. She has chosen not to attend the court hearings of the six suspects accused of murdering her husband.

"I feel almost indifferent to the attackers," she said. "I don't want to spend my time on them. I'd rather spend time with my daughters."

At last June's candlelight vigil, Kay met some of the suspects' relatives, who come from East Palo Alto's Pacific Islander community. She also met with Dee Uhila, executive director of Pacific Islanders Outreach in East Palo Alto, who said the murder was also a turning point in her community, teaching parents to question where their children are when they are not with them in church.

Uhila suggested that the families of the suspects should visit with Meg Kay personally to apologize for the pain of the last 12 months.

Kay said that she would accept anything they had to say gratefully, although she did not feel that the gesture was necessary.

"After going through it for a year, we've seen the best and worst of human nature," said Peter Fletcher, Meg Kay's brother. "Each of us probably has our own way of dealing with this stuff."

--Vicky Anning 

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