Kathleen Ellen O’Brien Neitzey, called Kay by her family, was fun and funny, a defiant and strong-willed survivor who overcame tragedy. She would need all these qualities when attempting to open the door for girls to play softball in Little Compton during the 1970s.
Kay was the fourth of five children born to Margaret and George O’Brien, and made her home in the Brookland neighborhood of North East Washington, D.C. Under that first roof at 4014 Michigan Avenue she met four of her longest and truest friends, her brother Terry and her sisters Mary Ann, Margie and Patricia.
At the age of 7, after a bus hit Kay on her way to school, doctors informed Mrs. O’Brien that they would need to amputate her daughter’s leg in order to save her life. Kay’s mother leaned over and shared the news with her daughter, “I wish they could take my leg instead of yours,” she said. And Kay looked up at her and replied, “I wish they could take your leg too.” Losing her leg did not stop her; her mother and father would not allow it. She led a vibrant athletic life: swimming, playing softball and basketball.
Kay attended The Catholic University of America. She graduated with a degree in elementary education and philosophy. She taught sixth grade at St. Anthony’s, her parish school and second grade at St. Ambrose in Cheverly, MD. Later in life she would tutor adult English language learners in Little Compton. She would also serve on the Little Compton School Committee for two terms.
Her journey to Little Compton would begin on July 9, 1960, when she married Joseph Neitzey.
Kay and Joe moved many times in those first 8 years, then in 1968 they built their home and life in Little Compton. They raised three children here, Julia, Philip, and Clare. When Clare expressed a desire to play baseball in elementary school, the little league elders declined. They told Kay that baseball was not for girls because the language was too salty. Undaunted, Kay founded the Little Compton Girls Softball League. Decades later, after Kay’s passing, her children would be approached by women who played in the league. They expressed their condolences as well as their gratitude for the camaraderie, competition, and challenges the league offered. They recalled fond memories of Mrs. Neitzey’s kind and humorous coaching style, while sometimes on her crutches. Their appreciation for the league’s founding was conveyed with heartfelt thanks.
Kay taught her children and grandchildren to put love of God first. She went on to teach CCD and advise St. Catherine’s youth group. When an accident nearly claimed Philip’s life as a young Marine, Kay’s strength and faith saw them through. Her upbringing and recovery had instilled a belief in self-reliance, but she was also devoted to the voiceless and defenseless. That led her to co-chair with Joe, St. Catherine’s first Respect Life Committee, which they did for many years. Kay was well informed and well read. She learned early that a meaningful life has a point of view and expresses it clearly.
She loved card games – in earlier years, Bridge with her friends and for the past three decades, Rummy games with her grandchildren. She loved the Brownell Library book club, the Washington Redskins, Jeopardy, Peanut M&Ms and Milano cookies. She cherished phone calls with her grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and she never missed a birthday.
She developed an awe for the Atlantic Ocean, and spent many hours parked at South Shore Beach with Joe beside her. There they would sit at South Shore nearly every day, sometimes under moonlight; sometimes through coastal fog; sometimes lit by the fading pink twilight of Little Compton’s beautiful western sky.
Julia Lewis (daughter) & Liz Lewis (granddaughter)