Jenkins: Carolyn King was a fighter in so many ways

October 3, 2012 

We’ll remember, first and always, the smile. No matter what she was facing, or how worried she was about what one of her friends might be facing, Carolyn King always had a smile. Carolyn, who died Tuesday night at 90, was a short lady with the gracious manners of her generation, and a measure of gentility and grace and kindness and inner happiness.

And underneath ... steel. Righteousness. Determination. A warrior she was, and some battles she won and some she lost and in others, a draw was a victory of sorts.

She even beat a years-long battle with cancer for a while. Those friends who surrounded her and her husband of over 60 years, Cy, at their Whitaker Glen retirement apartment thought on several occasions in these last years that Carolyn was about to leave them, but time and again, she came back, and there she would be again in the dining room, talking and waving. And smiling.

A Kentuckian, she married Cy King and they settled in Raleigh, where Cy handled acquisitions at the N.C. State University library for many years. They raised two boys, Cy and Edward.

And in a way, they raised others, or tried to, from the burdens of poverty and racial discrimination and narrow-mindedness.

Carolyn and Cy, who survives her along with their sons, were unabashed liberals. They didn’t apologize for it, or run from it, or try to convert the liberal label into something else, like “moderate.” Call them liberals, and they’d readily agree and thank you for it.

For years, they declined nomination for the Raleigh Hall of Fame, which recently held its latest induction ceremony.

But several years ago, their friend Mary Cates, a great veteran of the Raleigh City Council and an activist like no other (she was a recent inductee), told them it was time. So they went along, somewhat reluctantly.

They earned it.

Carolyn was passionate about her causes. The United Nations Association in which she was active named a scholarship in her honor.

She’d talk about peace and cooperation, but in the years I knew her, she never mentioned anything about the scholarship. That was her way.

She was a part of Nuclear Freeze, the Raleigh Fair Housing Board, the Panel of American Women and active in the Community United Church.

On and on the list goes.

At Whitaker Glen, it was not unusual to see Cy and Carolyn coming in late. I used to run into them and they would report on a precinct meeting, or a candidate forum, or a rally or a demonstration. And these were people well into their 80s. Most of their neighbors had gone to bed.

The community of Whitaker Glen included many of like mind, but many others who strongly disagreed with their political views. But rarely would be a harsh word be spoken about the Kings. When someone was ill or worried, they’d be the first on the phone or at the door.

If two causes ranked above others, they would be racial equality and understanding and peace. Cy stood in hundreds of vigils over the years through several military conflicts. Carolyn was with him.

Though he didn’t talk about it much, his friends could silence critics by saying, “You know, he’s a World War II veteran, and was at the Battle of the Bulge.”

Carolyn was involved in racial integration efforts in this area for decades, whether the issue came up at a church or an association of some kind. Some of those battles were tough, and disheartening. It was hard for her to believe that racial prejudice had long existed and still did late in her lifetime.

I never thought Carolyn needed defenders, though, because her inner and outer happiness were infectious. I never heard her say anything cruel or bad about anyone. The smile, always the smile.

Bill Tucker, one of the Kings’ best friends and a man who taught chemistry at N.C. State University for 40 years, was hurting when I talked with him yesterday. He had seen Carolyn recently.

“Her concern,” he said, “was for everybody else, not just her family but everybody else.”

He said, “I have always described them as people who didn’t need to tell me they were Christian because that’s what they lived and breathed and I’ve never known anybody that was more Christ-like than the two of them.”

We will leave it at that. And, Amen.

Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached at 919-829-4513 or at jjenkins@newsobserver.com.

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