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Yow: 'It's been a wonderful journey'

Posted January 30, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— The extended family of Kay Yow gathered Friday to say their final goodbyes to North Carolina State University's longtime women's basketball coach.

Yow, 66, died last Saturday after her third recurrence of breast cancer in five years.

"We did not lose one of us; we lost a part of us," Rev. Stephen Davey, senior pastor at Colonial Baptist Church, told the hundreds of people gathered in the church for Yow's funeral.

Davey said the memorial service was Yow's last chance to "challenge and impact all of our lives."

Yow taped a 20-minute video where she discussed her faith at length and said farewell.

Coach Kay Yow's funeral Yow's farewell statement focused on faith

"I don't want you to fret over the fact that I'm not here or question why I'm not here. God knows what he's doing," she said. "It's been a wonderful journey."

The video elicited laughs from the capacity crowd as Yow related a story of a florist that mixed up cards on two floral arrangements, mistakenly sending a "Congratulations on your new location" card to a funeral.

"Rejoice," she then told those in attendance. "I am now in a new location, a wonderful location."

People began streaming into the Cary church Friday morning for a public viewing of Yow's quilt-draped casket before the afternoon service for the coach who made her mark in women's basketball and the fight against breast cancer.

"Normally in your life, you affect maybe one or two people. She's affected thousands of young women and young men with her witness," said Tom Burleson, a former N.C. State basketball player. "We're just ... proud of what she's done and what she's accomplished, and whatever we can do to honor her is not enough."

University of North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell, Pat Summitt of the University of Tennessee, Geno Auriemma of the University of Connecticut and Debbie Ryan of the University of Virginia, who also has battled cancer, were among Yow's former competitors who attended the funeral.

Hundreds expected at Coach Kay Yow’s funeral Yow tribute special

"Kay has had such an influence on my life," said Summitt, who tapped Yow as an assistant coach for the 1984 Olympic team. "She was just all about other people. There was never a focus on herself, just a focus on helping other people be successful."

"Kay was a very, very big part of my life and (was) just a person that was very special," Ryan said. "It was just important that I be able to (attend her funeral)."

"Today's coaches are so wrapped up in their own situations – their own jobs, their own careers and their advancement – that they lose sight of the fraternity that we have and how important it is that we support each other," Auriemma said.

Hatchell said she saw people at the funeral that she hadn't seen in years, calling Yow's funeral a reunion for everyone in the coaching profession.

"It shows how Kay touched everybody's lives," she said. "In some way, shape or form, she touched so many people."

Many of Yow's current and former players, Gov. Beverly Perdue, N.C. State football coach Tom O'Brien, ABC-TV broadcaster Robin Roberts, former N.C. State basketball player David Thompson and former Wolfpack football players Tory and Terrence Holt, who were from Yow's hometown of Gibsonville, also attended the funeral.

"I'm not surprised to see the basketball community rally around Kay Yow," former player Debbie Antonelli said. "She's one person in our profession that everybody really, really liked and respected. ... She brought out the best in everybody."

"She meant so much not only on the court but (also) off the court," Thompson said. "She was very supportive of all the teams (at N.C. State), and she led her life in an exemplary way."

Yow arranged the details of the funeral service herself, including taping the 20-minute video a few years ago when her cancer returned and writing a poem handed out to all who attended about the limitations of the disease that took her life.

Coach Kay Yow's funeral Those inside, outside basketball pay respects

"She lived her life," said Roberts, who also has battled cancer. "She was diagnosed, and she goes on to win the gold medal. She goes on and takes her team to the Final Four. She taught us what it means to live with cancer. She was not a survivor – she thrived. I think of that, and it comforts me."

“Even when she was sick, she came to our house one night to speak to our daughter who had breast cancer. She was there as a missionary of hope,” former NCSU Chancellor Larry Monteith said.

Yow didn't allow any current or former players speak at the service for fear of displaying favoritism, said Rev. Mitchell Gregory, pastor of Cary Alliance Church, which Yow attended for years. Instead, Gregory read notes and remembrances from a number of players.

Gentleness was Yow's hallmark, and she displayed it both on and off the basketball court.

"She was zealous about cultivating that virtue," Gregory said, "although gentleness dripped from her every action."

Yow's burial was scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday in Gibsonville. The burial service, which is open to the public, ends a week of public remembrances for her.

More than 4,100 people packed Reynolds Coliseum Thursday night for the Wolfpack women's first game since Yow's death. The team wore pink uniforms and shoes to honor her fight against breast cancer.

The campus also held a public tribute to her Wednesday night.


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  • starglow2005 Jan 30, 2009

    Well done thy good and faithful servant....well done!

    R.I.P Kay Yow...!

  • diwanicki Jan 30, 2009

    May Coach Yow RIP. She truely was an inspiration to everyone. The quilt is beautiful. I hope others that have breast cancer can learn something from her. don't give up, keep living and enjoy your life.

  • Howie275 Jan 30, 2009

    I don't know if this is the right place for this or not. Does anyone know if the NC State pink breast cancer t-shirts like the players were wearing on wed night are for sale anywhere?

  • Made In USA Jan 30, 2009

    Her final contact with everyone was an effort to reach out to you all and help you to receive the gift of eternal life. What a wonderful woman she was.

  • eri815 Jan 30, 2009

    smartmissa & terriersrfun - thank you for that info about the quilt.

    I'm glad that I asked--very interesting

  • lovethemoment Jan 30, 2009

    Well said odell and Buddy1- Quit complaining. If you don't want to see it, turn the channel people or better yet get outside a little bit. So sad people have to complain about something they can turn off or not read.
    We will miss you Kay!!!

  • ncweddingdj Jan 30, 2009

    RIP, COach Yow. The epitome of a true class act....

  • smartmissa Jan 30, 2009

    eri815- The meaning of the quilt was explained at the end of the funeral: The quilt is a family heirloom. It is made from the ribbons and bows that were placed at the grave of Kay Yow's grandmother. The quilt is handed down through the women in her family. There is a second quilt made of the ribbons and bows of her grandfather's grave, which is handed down through the men in her family.

  • terriersrfun Jan 30, 2009

    The quilt was made from the ribbons and bows from funeral of one of her grandparents and has been passed down through the generations. There is one for the men and one for the women. I wonder if they add to the quilt after the death of a family member.

  • 1Packfan Jan 30, 2009

    Buddy1 - GREAT Post!

    Thank you WRAL for showing the service. I wanted to attend, but could not get out of work to do so.

    She is truly an inspiration.

    Thank you coach!