Mary Kay Kare (1952-2021)

Mary Kay Kare at Chicon 7 in 2012. Photo by Mark Olson.

Popular Bay Area fan Mary Kay Kare, who co-chaired Potlatch 19 in 2010 and worked on a large number of Worldcons and other conventions, died in early October of a blood infection. Fans learned of her passing after her nephew contacted the local branch of the Mythopoeic Society to which she belonged, and whose international organization she served as a Steward for a number of years.

Mary Kay grew up in Oklahoma and graduated from the University of Oklahoma-Norman in 1974. She was a member of the Norman Oklahoma SF Society in the late 1970s. Over the years she lived in a number of places including Ohio, Washington and California. By profession, she was a catalog librarian, and for a time worked with the organization behind WorldCat.

She volunteered for conventions ranging in size from a hundred people to Worldcons, in positions ranging from chair to gopher. She liked doing registration and programming the best. She also ran the Hugos for Denvention 3 (2008) and told John Hertz at the end of convention, “I’ve finished administering the Hugo nominations and the voting.  I even had fun.” 

Laurie Mann, Gay Ellen Dennett, and Mary Kay Kare at the Denvention 3 Hugo Reception in 2008. Photo by Diana Glyer.

Her other fannish interests at different times included filking, being a dealer, writing reviews, fanzine publishing, and participating in amateur press associations (apas). Her fanzines include Red Dust. She was a member of such apas as Slanapa, DI apa, Butterbur’s Woodshed, APAPI, and Myriad. When the internet came along she became very active in online fandom.

Not every fan remains a voracious reader after getting deeply involved in so many phases of fandom but Mary Kay did – her Goodreads lists 2,763 books read of all kinds. She also served as a reader for the Mythopoeic Society’s Adult Fantasy award for many years.

In her program participant bio for Denvention 3 she wrote that “The best thing she has gotten from fandom is her husband Jordin Kare, Generic Handwaving Physicist, Rocket Scientist, Mad Inventor, and Filker of Note.” The couple would be Tuckerized in Spider Robinson’s Callahan’s Touch. Jordin’s unexpected death after heart surgery in 2017 was a severe blow and afterwards her friends say she was often withdrawn.

Mary Kay ran for the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund in 2007 – a year no one ended up being selected because the British Eastercon was cancelled. She said about herself in her platform: “After 30 years in fandom I’ve learned to be good at building bridges. I’ve done conrunning, zines, apas, dealing, and filking. I’m very active in online fandom these days too. I am, she said, modestly, renowned for the greatness of my parties.”

I remember that a party is where I first heard her name – Mary Kay Jackson, still being single then — though I didn’t actually meet her til years later. In the early Eighties she helped the group bidding to hold the NASFiC in Austin, Texas run a room party at a Worldcon. Robert Taylor had hauled along a state-of-the-art personal computer and was attracting attention with a fannish dating match service. Every male fan asking to be matched with a woman got the same name: Mary Kay Jackson. When I asked Taylor why that was happening, he said there were 25 names in the database so far, but only one woman – her. (I expect there might have been none except, being on the bid committee, she had basically let them add her name as a favor.)

The significant medical and mental challenges she confronted in the last years of her life she discussed on the Livejournal she kept from 2003-2015, and which is still online.

Mary Kay’s friends are writing tributes to her, and the one from David Bratman is excellent – read it here.

[Thanks to Joyce Scriver, Steven H Silver, Mike Bentley, James Davis Nicoll, and Locus Online for the story.]

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27 thoughts on “Mary Kay Kare (1952-2021)

  1. The 1985 Austin NASFiC – I was there, and didn’t get her name.

    I did, however, meet the #2 on my list, and my late wife had me as next to last, which was how we met, with her working security.

  2. mark: That was good for you, of course! But the con where I saw the game run was BEFORE the NASFiC, which they were still bidding for at the time. And I didn’t go to the 1985 NASFiC, so I know what I’m remembering didn’t happen there.

  3. I’m sad to learn of this. Mary Kay was not always the easiest person to get along with (and she’d have been the first to agree with that!) — she was, however, always a Class Act, interesting, intelligent and engaged in her life. She and Jordin complemented each other very well. It’s hard to think we won’t see her again at various conventions.

  4. I remember Mary Kay and Jordin’s wedding — right around this time of year, the day before the Oakland hills fire and the sky was the color of a Maxfield Parrish painting. I forget the name of the venue, but they’d picked it, in part, because the ceiling was painted with winged pigs and there was some joke between them about not getting married “until pigs fly.” (I played the harp at their wedding — a piece I wrote for the occasion.) She was so lost after Jordin’s death. Never got over it. She’s one of the very few people I visted during the strictest part of quarantine. She’d said something about missing the taste of home-grown tomatoes so I drove down from Concord with the “produce of my estate” half as an excuse just to get out of the house, half because I’d made a quiet commitment to myself after Jordin’s death to reach out periodically to Mary Kay and not simply wait for us to bump into each other. We shared a hotel room at Dublin Worldcon — a bit funny to go halfway around the world to see more of each other than we normally would in a year. That was how we met, in fact. (Unless my memory is badly betraying me.) I went off to my first Ohio Valley Filk Festival (this would be back in the ’80s?) and had a sort of “blind date” room-share match up with Mary Kay through a mutual friend. For all those intersections, I don’t think it would be accurate to say we were anything like close friends. We “lived in the same village” as I like to say of that sort of relationship.

  5. Heather – so glad you were able to visit Mary Kay during the pandemic. Berni and I reached out to her, but she was not up for visiting, and we didn’t want to push too hard; and many others had similar experiences. Hope she liked the tomatoes.

  6. @Heather: So glad you visited her, with tribute.

    She never recovered from Jordin’s death, so I hope they’re partying at The Big Con In The Sky.

    Miss them both.

  7. I “met” her on rec.arts.sf.fandom and met her at various fannish gatherings around the Bay Area. We weren’t close, but she was intelligent and interesting and I liked her. This is sad news.

  8. I don’t remember when I first met Mary Kay, and haven’t seen her for several years. We were acquaintances rather than friends. Still, her death is a loss. May her memory be a blessing to her family and friends.

  9. Remembering the health issues which drove me from RASFF back in the day with CFS/ME, she reached out to me on Twitter years ago when her own health began to get worse years ago, and I hope I was able to provide her with some small assistance in that way.

    It was always a highlight of any day to hear from her on Twitter, even if she inexplicably failed to find possums adorable. Takes all types, I suppose.

  10. Well, %^$^&^!@!. I just read this and found out.

    That explains why she didn’t answer the most recent emails.

    There’s a box packed and waiting to mail with a silver-and-amber turtle in it. It was in a box of mixed jewelry supplies I acquired, and it obviously needed to go to her, since any turtle pendant or finding I ran across and sent would delight her.

    She liked making things. She was a Beads of the Month stalwart for pretty much the whole decade and a half of it.

    There’s a box here that accumulates interesting jasper beads until there’s a good handful or so to send off to Mary Kay.

    She supported other artists who made things. I just finished the note-with-ingredients for the earrings she gets as a Kickstarter backer. Since the turtIe didn’t go out to her this morning, I was going to open up the box and send them together on Monday.

    She loved exuberant clothing, interesting beads, books books books, and sent recommendations my way. She could be difficult, as already mentioned, but she could also be incredibly thoughtful and kind. She was one of a dozen or so Benevolent Conspirators who really liked brightening people’s day by surprising them with wished-for gifts. She would get hold of me and say, “So-and-so was posting about how much they love the necklace you just put up but that they need not to spend anything right now. Could you check and see if they’d be OK having an un-named person buy it for them as a present?” I really appreciated that she always asked me to check and see if it was OK.

    I just had to go back and change all the verbs in here to past tense.

    I was going to send her another email tonight.

    This is going to take a while to encompass.

  11. If someone could point me towards contact info for her next-of-kin, I need to ask them what to do with things like her Kickstarter rewards. I can be reached by email at lionesselise at g mail. Thank you.

  12. Excellent remembrance, Janice. I could not stop thinking about her yesterday as I watched the spectacular come-from-behind victory of her Oklahoma Sooners over the Texas Longhorns

  13. The loss of Jordin really hit her hard; she came to our summer party and had to leave abruptly- socializing was just too hard. I was trying to help her clean out Jordin’s extensive stash of stuff- but between my inrwtiring, her health, pandemic and that- it pretty much stopped.
    And now I’m not feeling great for not making more of an effort to reach out.
    If someone knows heirs, I made lists, and can help.

  14. I met her on Usenet back in those rosy days when the world was so much better. When I went to Jo Walton and Emmet O’Brien wedding in Hay-on-Wye she and Jordin picked me up from the train station: only the first of the many acts of generosity and welcome she extended to me. When I landed in Seattle for Clarion, utterly terrified, she again picked me up, took me to her house, gave me pillows, bedsheets, lights, a printer, and the company of cats. She made me laugh. It meant the world to me to know that I had a friend in this scary foreign country.
    I was one of the lucky people who never found her difficult. She was always good company, even the last time I saw her in Dublin, despite the loss of Jordin. She was wearing a stunningly bright blue silk dress in which she looked magnificent. I wish I had managed to go out to eat with her one more time.
    I spent all of Friday in shocked disbelief. She seemed one of those people who are much too alive to die.
    I hope her beloved cats are taken care of.

  15. I always liked Mary Kay. I knew her and Jordin during the Seattle days, worked with her on several conventions, and her parties were, indeed, legendary.

    Funny how people describe her as ‘difficult’. If she had been a man I think they might describe the same behavior as ‘assertive’.

    I sometimes described her as obstreperous, because I like that word. But, what I mean by this in Mary Kay’s case is: was she was right about things far more often than she was wrong and she had zero patience for those who refused to acknowledge that simple fact.

    If there is a Big Con in the Sky, Mary Kay and Jordin belong there. With cats.

  16. A huge loss. I loved Mary Kay, and will miss her terribly. Damn COVID yet again for robbing me of my last few chances to see her.

    I’m sure someone has already mentioned her “Invisible Disability” ribbons, which I first saw at LonCon. They helped me enormously.

  17. It’s hard to imagine her smiling face not being around. Thanks for the lovely write up, she will be missed. Deepest condolences to folks.

  18. I don’t have anything to add in substance, but I join the chorus of fans who will miss her. She impressed me on rasff, where I first came across her, and she impressed me whenever we met in person. Always interesting and sociable. A sad day for fandom.

  19. Jordin Kare was my science guest of honor at VCON 28. Mary Kay was in my face, yelling at me. She was right, dammit. The Mary Kay experience will be missed, profoundly.

  20. So sorry to hear this. Earlier this year, Mary Kay was talking about possibly moving back to the MidWest or to New Mexico. Jordin’s loss hit her very hard, but she was finally at the point where she was ready to build a new life for herself. I was so glad to see that she was starting to heal and happy that she was thinking about her future. Sad that she never got to do that. Jeff and I will miss her as we miss Jordin, and I hope they are together as always forever. Lots of very good memories with them both.

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