NM native had varied career but was a journalist at heart - Albuquerque Journal

NM native had varied career but was a journalist at heart

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Kay Cooper McKinney worked for a U.S. senator and for the U.S. Education and Justice departments, but before that she was a newspaper reporter with the Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller-Times and The Albuquerque Tribune.

Kay Cooper McKinney

Like her late mother, Val Cooper, who was managing editor of the Farmington Daily Times, McKinney was a journalist at heart.

Sue Major Holmes, who worked for the Albuquerque bureau of The Associated Press from 1975 to 2011, met McKinney at the University of New Mexico, where both majored in journalism.

“Outside of her schoolwork, Kay was just fun to be around,” Holmes said. “She had this sense of the absurd. But she was very serious about her schoolwork and being a journalist. It was her family business, so to speak, because of her mother. She knew what she wanted to be. It wasn’t just ‘I’ll do this because I don’t know what else to do.'”

McKinney died Nov. 5 at her home near Old Town, after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 74.

There will be a rosary at 9:30 a.m. Thursday at San Felipe de Neri Catholic Church, 2005 N. Plaza NW in Old Town, and a funeral Mass at 10 a.m. A reception will follow.

Survivors include daughters Kathy Low and Ellen McKinney; grandchildren Jeremy Low, Candace Low and Stephanie Metteauer; great-grandchildren Jeremy James Low Jr., Jaedin Low, Jordan Low and William Warren Metteauer; nephew Ireke Cooper; niece Alison Cooper; sister-in-law Manalynn Cooper; and stepsister Kristin Kailey.

Funny and vibrant

McKinney was born in Santa Fe, but grew up in Farmington after her mother joined the Daily Times in 1953. She graduated from UNM in 1970 and joined the Caller-Times, where she covered the police, courthouse and City Hall beats and wrote feature stories.

It was at the Caller-Times that she met reporter Jerry McKinney, the divorced father of two young daughters. They were married in February 1972, and Kay became the mother of Jerry’s two daughters.

“We may not be blood related to Kay, but we are an awful lot like her,” Low said. “I got her (lousy) sense of direction, procrastination and wisecracking comments.”

Daughter Ellen said McKinney was funny and vibrant.

“In pictures, she always had this smirk, even in her wedding photos,” Ellen said. “I got my love for musicals because she used to take me to see them at Popejoy Hall.”

Kathy said McKinney made the felt Christmas stockings that she and Ellen still have.

“And she made stockings for the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too,” she said.

In 1974, the family moved to Albuquerque, and both Kay and Jerry joined the staff of The Albuquerque Tribune. Jerry covered politics. Kay wrote feature stories, worked on the news and sports copy desks and put together the Tribune’s entertainment section. She served twice as president of the Albuquerque Press Club.

D.C. and Tokyo

In 1981, Jerry McKinney went to Washington, D.C., to serve as press secretary for U.S. Rep. Joe Skeen of New Mexico. Kay left the Tribune that year to join her husband in Washington. She worked as assistant press secretary and campaign press secretary for U.S. Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt in 1981 and 1982 and worked seven years for the Education Department and another seven years for the Justice Department in a variety of roles that always boiled down to the writing and editing that was in her blood.

In 1985, Jerry joined Voice of America, the broadcast service of the U.S. government. He and Kay lived in Tokyo, Japan, from 1993 to 1995 when Jerry was VOA bureau chief there.

The couple returned to Albuquerque in 2002. Jerry died in a rafting accident in 2006.

Neighbors Frank and Mary Padilla became close to Kay as they helped each other out on home projects and as fellow parishioners at San Felipe de Neri Church.

Kay volunteered at the church’s gift shop, served as a eucharistic minister and was a member of the parish’s St. Vincent de Paul Society conference, which assists the poor and the sick.

“She was part of the counting team that would count (church) collections,” Mary said. “Me and her and a couple of others worked on a church cookbook ‘Memories and Recipes,’ that went through three printings. Kay would rock babies at the hospital and knit caps for them. She loved country music and Hallmark Christmas movies.”

And sports.

“She would go with us to Lobo football and basketball games,” Frank said. “She would be whooping and hollering and interacting with people around us. We would go tailgating at the football games, but we wouldn’t cook. We would just stop on the way and get hamburgers. Even when she was sick, we would call her and tell her when the Lobos were going to be on TV.

“Our friendship just grew and grew. We had a good time.”

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