Kay Ellis, the girl could cook, and I’m not talking about a meal where you push back your seat and say “Boy that was good.” I’m talking about the kind of magic that happens in that first bite when your taste bud’s reaction is to beg for more and all the while you’re telling someone, “You have to try this, it’s amazing,” the left side of your brain is telling you to be quiet so you can hoard it all to yourself. Kay would gladly give you a recipe if you asked for it, but one she couldn’t give you from her kitchen was that recipe for living life. It’s not something she or any of us have written down anywhere, on how to do it well, but she sure nailed it.
I’ve known Tom since I was a little kid, being introduced to his wife Kay years later was an added bonus. She was so easy to get to know, what you got was Kay, no pretentious facades, nothing shy, or boastful, just a comfortable, pleasant person, a person you’d want to spend more time with. I could easily see how she and Tom were best friends and successful business partners. One of my father’s expressions comes to mind when I think of them together, “They work like a well oiled machine.” That doesn’t make their relationship sound very romantic, but all you had to do to see that side of them, was to look out on the harbor, they were living one of the greatest romance novels ever written.
With so many reasons to be proud, I think her face shined brightest when she was talking about her boys. Laughing, she’d tell you Tom was her biggest, but kidding aside, it was ever apparent whenever she spoke of them. Some moms stow away things their children make when they’re little, to be brought out and reminisced about, perhaps on a winter’s day. In Kay’s home, they were proudly displayed, from pottery balanced on a beam; awards of merit framed and hung on a wall, to homemade paper chain garland adorning the Christmas tree year after year. Ask her about a photograph of them and you could see and hear in her voice that she was back to the time and place the picture was taken, enjoying the moment all over again. It is always nice to see the boys quiet pride, reflected right back at her in their respect and admiration for their mother.
I have no reason to say that Kay was my best friend. We didn’t have lunch together every week, or double date, or go shopping together, like girlfriends do. We did share a love of books, dogs, flowers, art…our conversations just flowed at an easy pace. “Have you read this book? I think you’ll really like it.” She’d be right, ten times out of ten. Having the same birthday, our gifts to each other were more often than not, books, and she never failed to give me one I would enjoy from beginning to end.
I’d pop in at the Schooner Sail’s Office down at Seven Sea’s Wharf while out walking my dog “Pal.” It was a nice stop along the way to have a friendly chat, see how things were going. Pal would come over to the house with me too. Kay was quite fond of the little guy. One day she called me over to the house because there was someone she wanted me to meet. That someone was “Lanny,” a cute little Chocolate Lab pup, who soon grew to be a big part of the Ellis family, and a welcoming hostess aboard the Schooner “Thomas E. Lannon.” Kay told me that “Pal,” played a part in the deciding factor for them to get a dog. Seems Tom had wanted another one for years, but the time was just never right, seeing the relationship I had with my dog had made an impact. I am so very glad of that and for her telling me so.
It has been my great privilege to have my phone ring with Kay’s cheerful voice on the answered line saying, “Hey Laurel, we’re going out for a pot luck dinner sail, can you and Jimmy make it?” An invitation that I would be foolish to pass up. How nice to be with Tom, Kay and their blend of friends, sailing with the sunset off the stern, and the moon slowly rising off the bow, with nothing but the sounds of the sea, splashing the hull, some wind rattling the sheets filling the sails, and the voices and laughter of friends sharing a special moment in time.
None of us will forget her kind, giving soul and all that she gave to Gloucester and those that visited this treasure we call home. There must be thousands upon thousands of photographs people have taken aboard the Lannon to stow in their album of favorite memories. One can’t help but wonder how many of those young students they brought aboard over the years were influenced to become sailors when they grow up, may their dreams comes true.
It was so nice to visit her, albeit briefly at Christmastime. Sitting close to the warmth of the wood stove, patting her faithful companion “Lucy,” as she told me how she and Tom would be packing up for their annual trip out West to spend time in the mountains with friends. There was that smile in her voice again as she spoke, and that shine on her face, the one you saw when she talked about Tom, her family, her friends, and her adventures with all of them. With a heart as big as all outdoors, may she soar into her next adventure encompassed in love and her next home be as beautiful, warm and inviting as the one she made here.
The impact Kay has left in the hearts and minds of those who knew her is something to be treasured and she will be greatly missed. From all of us at Enduring Gloucester, it is with great heartfelt sympathy that we say, fair winds and following seas, to Kay, Tom, the entire Ellis family, and her family of friends.
Laurel Tarantino, is happy to live in her hometown, Gloucester, with her husband, James, “Jimmy T,” daughter Marina Bella, and the family dog, Sport. She is known for “stopping to smell the roses” and loves to photograph and write about her beloved waterfront community.