George Bernard Shaw said "I believe my life belongs to the community." This was Adelaide Daniels Key's philosophy of life and she lived it until her passing on August 20, 2014. Adelaide died at home surrounded by her family and close friends after a two-year battle with cancer.
Born on December 10, 1935 in Durham, NC to Jonathan Daniels and Lucy Cathcart Daniels, Adelaide grew up in Raleigh and lived most of her early life in Macon County before moving to Franklin, NC in 1964, where she raised her family. She then moved to Asheville in 1987 following a divorce.
She is survived by her loving wife, Maggie Smith; three sons, Gilbert Russell (Rusty) Key of Franklin, NC, Jonathon Key and wife Barbara of Candler, NC and David Key and wife Kathryn of Franklin, NC; daughter, Adelaide Green of Otto, NC; seven grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; sister, Dr. Lucy Daniels of Raleigh, NC; several nieces, nephews and cousins.
In addition to her parents, she was predeceased by sisters, Elizabeth Squire of Weaverville, NC and Mary Cleves Weber of Salt Lake City, UT.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
Adelaide was the granddaughter of Josephus Daniels who, in 1894 at the age of 19, bought the Raleigh News and Observer and built it into one of the nation's most successful newspaper companies of its time. He instilled in Adelaide at an early age the importance of philanthropy and community service. Her grandfather and her father, Jonathan Daniels, were active nationally in Democratic politics and were key players in American history. Josephus served as Secretary of the Navy during Prohibition and is famously remembered for ordering the replacing of sailor's alcoholic rations with coffee, making him the namesake of the phrase "a cup of Joe." Her father, Jonathon served as special assistant and then Press Secretary to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of Adelaide's earliest childhood memories was playing charades in the White House with the President and Eleanor Roosevelt and their grandchildren.
Strong-willed and independent, Adelaide often charted her own course. Despite an early life of her family's social prominence in Raleigh and Washington DC, Adelaide eschewed much of the trappings of privilege. She graduated from the George School in Bucks County, PA. She attended North Carolina Women's College (now UNC Greensboro), married and moved to Franklin.
In 1990, living in Asheville and newly single, she sold her interest in the family publishing business and used the new-found wealth to establish the Adelaide Worth Daniels Foundation, giving her full attention to the philanthropy, activism and public service she loved. With her resources and time, she worked for social justice for those less fortunate in North Carolina, especially, but not limited to child welfare, family services and the expansion of educational opportunities for all.
Among the many philanthropic causes, her generosity established the Key Center for Community Citizenship and Service Learning at UNC Asheville,The Key School at Carolina Day School,which teaches children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities and she endowed the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professorship in Special Education, at Western Carolina University.
Her proudest achievement was founding and funding the The Mission Rathbun House, an innovative, non-profit that provides lodging and support services in a home-like environment free-of-charge for caregivers and patients coming to Asheville for medical treatment.
Among many public service commitments, she served on the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina, trustee and past chairman of the Board of Trustees, Western Carolina University. She also served as a member of the Board of Directors of the UNC-Asheville Foundation and numerous other local and statewide educational institutions.
She received honorary Doctor of Human Letters degrees from UNC Asheville in 2001 and from Western Carolina University in 2003, as well as numerous other honors and awards.
Long active in Democratic Party politics, she opened her home to events for local, regional and national political leaders and aspiring public servants who shared her values.
I sort of know who I am now," Adelaide said in 2011. "I used to be Jonathan Daniels' daughter and Josephus Daniels' granddaughter. Then I was my husband's wife and my children's mother. Over the last 20 years I have evolved to the person I am today."
Adelaide met Maggie Smith in 2000 and became fast friends. A romantic relationship developed to the surprise of many family and friends. They were married in a public ceremony in 2007. As partners in philanthropy, Adelaide and Maggie worked together for the benefit of Asheville's community and continued to co-host benefits for candidates and causes they cherished, even as Adelaide's health declined.
"Life is so interesting," Adelaide recently mused." Everybody's life, I don't care where you come from, rich or poor, is full of tragedy and joy. It's all in how you look at it. If you look at something hard enough ,you can find the bad in it. I choose to see life as a wonderful roller coaster. I can look back and die laughing at things that seemed awful then."
A memorial service will be 6:00 p.m.,Thursday, August 28, 2014, First Baptist Church Asheville, NC.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Mission Rathbun House, 121 Sherwood Road, Asheville, NC 28803, or The Key School at Carolina Day School, 1345 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, NC 28803.