Daily Business Review reporter Julie Kay so loved her job that when the opportunity arose to join a group of attorneys going to Cuba, she refused to let her battle with cancer get in the way.
Two days after receiving chemotherapy treatment, she boarded a plane with the international law section of the Florida Bar last year. She didn’t tell anyone about the treatment because she was afraid she wouldn’t be allowed to go.
Kay, 54, died Sunday in Pompano Beach after a 10-year battle with ovarian cancer that included multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and a four-month clinical trial in Houston.
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Kay was ferociously private about her health issues to the end, and friends said she saw it as a victory that so many people didn’t know she was so ill.
“She never complained about her illness and despised pity,” said Sallie James, Kay’s friend for more than 30 years. “She was a warrior with the kind of courage that is seldom seen anywhere. Julie loved being a reporter more than anything and always focused her energy on her work instead of her health.”
For Kay, journalism was a kind of medicine for the soul. She reveled in finding “juicy” story ideas as business of law reporter at the Daily Business Review for more than six years. Her life revolved around reporting, her friends, and her nieces and nephews.
“Julie’s passing marks the end of an era in legal reporting in Miami,” said Andrew Smulian, chairman and CEO of Akerman, Florida’s largest law firm. “For years her stories shaped the way we think about South Florida’s legal market and helped focus attention on important issues impacting our profession. Those who worked with Julie knew her as a passionate and dedicated reporter, with a boundless curiosity and endless drive. She absorbed countless facts, big issues and small oddities, with equal relish. Julie leaves behind a profound legacy in legal journalism. We will all miss her very much.”
The back bumper on Kay’s car had two stickers: “I (heart) Cats” and “Trust me, I’m a reporter.”
“Julie loved the life of a reporter,” said Catherine Wilson, managing editor of the Daily Business Review. “She found joy in delivering thought-provoking articles that attorneys would gravitate to, and a hint of scandal about lawyers behaving badly really grabbed her attention.”
Attorneys trusted her and called her with tips. Sources appreciated her integrity and belief that lawyers are fundamental to achieving and preserving justice, said Peter Quinter, a partner at GrayRobinson.
In addition to two stints at the Daily Business Review, Kay worked at the National Law Journal, The Miami Herald and various other publications, most in South Florida.
Kay won awards for her work — most recently a Green Eyeshade Award for her reporting on the trip to Cuba trip last year. The Miami-Dade chapter of the Florida Association for Women Lawyers recognized her for her stories spotlighting women’s issues, a cause near to her heart.
Kay also wrote monthly freelance health articles for The Miami Herald. In June, Kay filed a story on gynecological cancers from the hospital after undergoing surgery but never told her editor at the Herald that she was sick. Kay filed another health story from the hospital in July.
“She was always full of ideas and wanted to do her best work,” said Joan Chrissos, Miami Herald night news content and health editor who worked with Kay by phone and email for about two years. “I knew I could count on her every month. I knew I would get a story that would be well-reported, well-researched and well-written. She always wanted to make sure she did it well and on deadline, and always did. She was a real pro.”
A close circle of friends accompanied Kay to doctor appointments, surgeries and treatments and took care of her when her health failed, said James, who met Kay when they were young reporters at The Palm Beach Post in the ’80s.
“She loved being a reporter, and it distracted her from her illness, and it kept her going,” James said. “I never saw her happier than when she had a juicy story. Those juicy stories are what kept her going.”
Juliet Beth Kay grew up in suburban Chicago and studied journalism at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She was survived by her brother Jonathan Kay of Boonesboro, Maryland; her sister Chasha Hellinger of North Miami; 14 nieces and nephews; and numerous grandnieces and grandnephews.
In lieu of flowers, Kay’s friends request that donations be made to the Hospice by the Sea Foundation or to a fund in her name at FIU that will be used to provide journalism students with internships: https://give.fiu.edu/give-now/student-affairs/?BBFund=2400&BBHideOtherFunds=1
Services are planned at 2 p.m. Monday at Levitt Weinstein Beth David Memorial Gardens, 3201 N. 72nd Ave., in Hollywood.