Tributes to Kay Daniels-Cohen

Day Daniels-Cohen in the 2013 Takoma Park Independence Day parade. Photo by Eric Bond.

Photos of Kay Daniels-Cohen submitted by Voice photographer Julie Wiatt, who says, “We loved Kay for her community spirit and her shining — often sparkling and glittering – example of how to live fully.” Photo of Daniels-Cohen and her brother Buddy Daniels in last July’s Independence Day Parade by Eric Bond.

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Takoma Park residents, activists, and fellow city councilmembers pay tribute to Kay Daniels-Cohen. Add your own, click here, to send The Voice a note. Or post to the comment section below.

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Sue Katz Miller:

So hard to imagine that my City Councilmember, my activist ally, my friend Kay Daniels-Cohen, died yesterday. I met Kay years ago when I was the PTA President at Piney Branch. The school system padlocked the school’s pool and threatened to fill it with cement. While protesting the situation at a City Council meeting, I met Kay and and her brother Buddy, and they just happened to have past experience running pools.

From that moment, Kay was my partner in advocating at City Council, County Council, City Rec, County Rec, MCPS. When I was ready to give up, she called pool companies, created financial plans, sat through endless meetings and protests with me. All the while, she was fighting cancer. When she was too sick to go out, I made her matzoh ball soup, and we bonded over our extended interfaith families, and the interfaith book I had been trying for years to get published. Eventually, we saved the pool, and I do not think that would have happened without Kay’s formidable will and steadfast encouragement (and the support of George Leventhal, and Terry Seamens, among others).

Last fall, I dragged my 16-year-old son out on a school night for the City Council nominating caucus. He was about to vote for the first time, thanks to our pioneering new city law. He was going to vote for Kay Daniels-Cohen, running unopposed, the only woman on the Council. Before he went into the voting booth, I wanted to remind him who Kay was–to make sure he shook hands with her, thanked her again for saving the pool, and looked into the eyes of the irrepressible woman who would represent him. There she was, in her American flags and sequins and homemade signs, the veritable spirit of Takoma Park.

Not long after that, Kay sent a bouquet of flowers to our house, to celebrate my book launch. My son asked, “Wow, is that what City Councilmembers are supposed to do? Send you flowers when your book is published?” And I said, “Well, no, that’s because she’s my friend.” Kay, wherever you are, keep on sparkling, keep on raising hell.

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Seth Grimes, councilmember Ward 1:

Kay was one of the most up-beat and enthusiastic people I have known, including during this last year, with a Let’s Do It! attitude and heart-felt dedication to serving the community, especially young people. Kay was always ready with a story about growing up in Takoma Park many decades ago, and with recognition of all that is good in our community today.

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Linette Lander:

On the subject of “Let’s Do It All,” I last saw Kay on Halloween. I was doing my Sherman cut-through to avoid the Junction to get over to community center to vote early. She was in a scary costume, seated solo on her front steps and prepared to hand out candy to kids and non-kids – she offered me some!

During our time on the Takoma Junction task force, which was sometimes frustrating and sometimes contentious, Kay said something about not always agreeing with me but always appreciating working together. I was really grateful for that approach and have thought about it many times since. I think it was one of the central hallmarks of her being Kay.

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Fred Schultz, councilmember Ward 6:

Kay had a trait that really astonished me — and to be honest, a trait that took me awhile to really appreciate. It was her unapologetic enthusiasm and positiveness. Some may have thought this was just a cheerleading act or an ego-trip. But, working with Kay on the City Council and in other contexts, I soon learned that her seemingly boundless energy and positiveness was utterly sincere.

Kay was not naive. She well understood the impression she made on people. She was an “up front” woman who dressed the part. With Kay, as the saying goes, what you saw is what you got. This was Kay being Kay; proud of her family and career accomplishments. More than once, she confessed: I know what some people might think, but this is who I am and I am not going to change.

She instinctively understood that her energy, creativity and enthusiasm would rub off on people and inspire them. She was right.

Regardless of who or what was the focus of her comments, she understood from the bottom of her heart, that offering energetic praise and moral support was the best way to get change to happen. Her duty was to get out the word and get people involved.

Kay quickly grasped the essence of things. She was persistent on issues and expressed her impatience, but her style was not to criticize others. She wanted “action” and had little patience for long-winded discussions.

From where I sit, not having Kay on the City Council dais is going to create a deafening silence.

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Vineda Myers:

I didnt know that it was possible to squeeze joy out of every aspect of life. I had never seen anyone do that, before Kay. I’ve never known anyone so happy to be present, doing whatever…so excited to be alive. It was infectious, and I enjoyed having it rub off on me. Kay was unique and special, and I’ll miss her.

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Clair Garman:

Kay was well-known as a cat lover. Not only did she live with five cats, she provided food several days a week to colonies of neutered feral cats at Washington Adventist Hospital and the wooded areas behind Shoppers Food Warehouse on New Hampshire Avenue. Each of the nearly twenty feral cats was given a name by Kay. While she fed them, she talked to them and called them by name.

About a year ago a new feral cat appeared behind Shoppers Food Warehouse. A new cat that is truly feral is trapped, neutered and returned to the colony. The neutering process requires that the cat be named. The new feral was named Lady Kay.

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Howard Kohn:

I will let others praise Kay for what she did for Takoma Park, and, believe me, she did a lot. But I need to mention the one thing she promised to do but never did. That, of course, is dance naked on a tabletop. I’m sure you heard her make this promise many times, and yet no, negatory, nada, nyet, ixnay, she never did it. Or, hmnnn, maybe she did dance naked, and I wasn’t invited?! Okay! Did anyone take pictures?

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Ellen Zavian:

Kay had a “happy gene.” Happy genes are people whose happiness comes from doing good for others, rather than from hedonistic self-satisfaction. Special people who hold this gene have a more favorable profile, live longer, have less inflammation and better antibody activity.

One might ask how I could think Kay possessed this happy gene if she passed so young. I actually believe we had her longer than we would have because of her happy gene. Her ability to survive cancer twice (before the third bout) is proof that Kay had this special type of happiness that can only be derived from pursuing a greater purpose.

The great thing is that if you allowed Kay’s happiness into your life, even once, you too will have touched others.

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Lorig Charkoudian:

When I first met Kay, I thought she was crazy. Not your average nuttiness that most of us in Takoma Park suffer from, but really…crazy. Then I got to know her and I realized … she was insane! Who else looks at a concrete slab of a parking lot, pictures vegetables growing, and then brings it to fruition?

What sane person can remain optimistic while doggedly and effectively pushing for incremental change in the quagmire that is Takoma Junction? Who can so consistently find the good in everyone and engage so deeply across so many societal divisions? Who else takes 90 minutes to complete the 5K, not because she’s moving slowly but because she has to stop and have a long conversation to personally thank every police officer and volunteer along the race route?

Who can rock the beads, goofy glasses, bright colors and those hats all at the same time? And who can keep the spirits of everyone around her so high, even while cancer is ravaging her own body? That crazy Kay – -she’s posting gold stars in the sky for us now.

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Tim Male, Ward 2 councilmember:

In thinking about Kay, I know many of the things I could say will be well-said by others who knew her even better than me. Her kindness and concern for the youth of Takoma Park. Her endless enthusiasm that lit up the room (sometimes literally).

My best moments with Kay were mostly all the quiet ones – behind the scenes of city council work – where we got to talk in detail about what she loved doing and wanted to make happen and how to make those things into reality. It was a privilege to get to work with her on some of her successes. But perhaps her greatest skill as a politician was that she knew “that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” By this l mean, that Kay knew that if she repeated something again and again and again, if she persisted in talking about some outcome, there was a good chance it would happen. That gift of being the Ward and the City’s own best one-woman advocacy campaign for a cause worked.

Kay got to see new life breathed into Takoma Junction, new crossing guards keeping our children safe, expanded recreation programs and lower taxes. For a time, she got to be the oldest politician in American to earn the votes of the youngest voters in the whole country. And she was almost here for enough time to see the first “Safe Grow Takoma” signs appear amid the crocuses and daffodils of spring.

I had the honor of sitting next to Kay for what must have been close to 100 City Council meetings and I will miss her company in nights to come when I hope we can still accomplish many of the works in progress for the better Takoma she so loved.

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Reuben Snipper, former Ward 5 councilmember:

Kay was such a sweet, kind, warm person, so devoted to Takoma Park and her neighborhood. No one was a bigger booster and fan of Takoma Park nor expressed their love for their town with as much enthusiasm as she did. Whenever I felt discouraged about something in Takoma Park, I could always count on Kay to cheer me up about it.

She was a great role model for me for that. Her long-time commitment to quality recreation activities in Takoma Park is a wonderful legacy. I have many years of fond memories of Kay and I will treasure them always.

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Jay Keller:

Kay chaired the Takoma Park Recreation Committee when I joined, and enthusiasm flowed!  Kay proposed restarting the winter basketball league that we hoped would have maybe a hundred kids the first year.  Opening day was packed with more than  450 kids.  Kay was THE cheerleader for Takoma Park. She pushed for the community gardens, supported TakomaPlays and was always giving  her “gold stars” to others. Last year’s 5K fun run became a 5KAY fun roll with Kay rolling with a little help from her friends.  I think she had so many Gold Stars to give out because she spent a lifetime accumulating them with her own good works. She knew how to build community, and we loved her for that. Kay got things done with humor, hugs, a beaming smile and anything that sparkled, and that’s the image I will always have.  She was Sunshine.

Kay, mentored, cheerlead, enthused, inspired and “gold-starred” so many in our community and I felt very lucky to have known her though her love of recreation.

Kay was a “can do” personality. “Let’s start a winter basketball league, a community garden, a festival to celebrate Takoma’s diversity”… just a few of  “just do it” projects of Kay (it was  a slogan of hers long before Nike)

She sparkled, both in dress and in energy. Seeing the 600 plus kids playing winter baseball, digging in  the gardens at the Library, near the Police Station and at New Hampshire Rec will be just a few of the many reminders of Kay’s Leadership and impact.
I’ll remember her ability to bring humor to serious issues, to get us laughing while making progress on issues in our community.

Kay inspired many of us to get more involved, to meet neighbors, to attend community events, to build a deeper and broader sense of community.

I am thankful to have known and been inspired by Kay.

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Annie Mozer:

I knew Kay through the Takoma Park Youth Garden, which she was instrumental in making happen.  She loved having the kids around, loved seeing the growth of food and flowers and brought energy, joy and humor to the project.

Kay’s approach to the garden was two-fold; there were, it seemed, elements that were necessary to a productive, happy  garden and elements that were essential – no exceptions.  An edible garden should vegetables that people will enjoy (the necessary elements).

Also, according to Kay, a garden must have, without question the following essential items: a scarecrow, miniature amusing sculptures (a cat, a fox), cairns from remnants of the construction debris and most of all marigolds.  She wanted them everywhere – flats and flats of them.  And they spread with the wind; we found them growing in the cracks of the surrounding curbs and sidewalks in our second season.  The truth is, she was right! These were all essential components to the Youth Garden.   Her garden brought joy (good food and fun) and marigolds have a natural nematicidal property.

The Youth Garden, like our memories of Kay, will keep her close to all of us.  We will always have marigolds; we will always have Kay

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Brian McLaughlin

A quote from a typical Kay supportive email on our local listserve: “What a joy to be a small part of this team…you all are the best!!! Many Huglets, The Kayster!!!”

A final message just for Kay:  “What a joy to have been a small part of your life – you are the best!!!  Many Huglets Forever!!!”

How can we honor Kay’s tireless and generous contributions to our lives and the City of Takoma Park?

Might it be possible to have Kay’s name join her Mom as the renamed Kay and Opal Daniels Park?

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Roger Schlegel:

For Kay

You never held out for some great, grand plan
awaiting some distant year.
But you always cheered for all cherished dreams –
you always let love trump fear.

You never held back in meeting a stranger.
No one was a means to your ends.
Gladly you’d bend for the littlest children
and greet them like precious friends.

The small things enthralled you:
– a single crosswalk as the City’s top need.
– one more hungry cat to feed.
– in a bare garden, a single seed.


You never calculated; you always rated everyone “Amazing.”
You dare us all to dance on tables,
To seize this day,
To live our lives like glittering fables –

To be foolish in the finest way.

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5 Comments on "Tributes to Kay Daniels-Cohen"

  1. Kathy Porter | February 21, 2014 at 4:57 pm |

    Kay was the most enthusiastic person I have ever met. She did nothing by halves. She seized life and tried to wring every last drop out of it.

    Soon after she came back to town, Kay helped me with one of my campaigns. She and Buddy volunteered to put campaign signs up at the community center on election day and she asked if I minded if she decorated the signs. Since the purpose of the signs is to be seen, I didn’t mind at all. When I saw the signs, I was blown away. Every sign had bows, streamers, and various things made out of crepe paper. I’m sure everyone who came to vote that year noticed my campaign signs. I know I still remember them and appreciate the wonderful woman who left her unique mark on everything she did.

  2. Hard to accept she’s gone. Kay was the most “alive” person I have ever known — and that goes back to Tacoma Park Junior High. Like everyone, Kay had her ups and downs but I never saw a “down” Kay. As so many have testified, here energy and enthusiasm was truly incredible and often contagious. I think I can speak for our old peer group — which, remarkable, is still in contact after all these years — that Kay was one of a kind who will be terribly missed. I’m just thankful she was part of my life.

  3. Kay was such a vibrant, energetic, positive, fun, cheerful, enthusiastic community leader. She exemplified the spirit of Takoma Park. Sending her and her family love and sympathy. She made a difference. We are all better for the work she did and she life she lived.

  4. Catherine Cummings | February 25, 2014 at 12:02 pm |

    The first afternoon I met Kay, she was watering her Youth Garden in 90 degree heat, wearing a pink bandana on her head and a baseball cap. I had my infant son on my hip and my four-year-old daughter in tow, but I had to get down there to meet her–she looked like such a cool lady! She told me about the garden and what she was up to, and I just knew that moment was significant.

    Later, Julie Taddeo and I had the immense pleasure of knowing Kay through our work promoting a law to reduce exposure to lawn pesticides in Takoma Park. She knew her mind of that issue, and she told us she would “crawl on her hands and knees” to City Council to vote for it. She didn’t have to do that because she was looking pretty great that evening. I remember Julie’s face when we saw her there–we were so happy.

    Kay is very much a mother figure, brave, and unafraid to stand up for what she cares about, but also giving of herself and fun. My children know her as the woman with the parking lot garden and the holiday decorations–her house is a landmark for them. They were sad when they learned she had died. My son, now almost five, put the Mardi Gras beads around my neck this morning from last night’s gathering. He said, “Wear this beautiful necklace, mom!” I think we will hold on to that necklace for a long time.

  5. Pat Rumbaugh | March 3, 2014 at 7:21 pm |

    Kay was a one of a kind person. Her enthusiasm radiated across a room. I met her in the Community Center when I got invited to be part of the Recreation Committee. She immediately embraced Takoma Plays. She asked what she could to help. She came dressed to play and inspired others to play. When she became a Council Woman I admired her determination to do everything she could for the citizens of Takoma Park. Those of us who were fortunate to know her have been blessed with a person who gave her all for others. May she live in our hearts and minds forever. Thank you Kay. We love you.

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