Local News

Yow: 'It's been a wonderful journey'

Posted January 30, 2009 6:01 a.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.

"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.

"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.