Published on February 25, 2022

Kay Closes 37-Year Career at NMMC

Kenn KayAt one time or another Kenn Kay has probably worked in almost every square inch of North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, plus many of the outlying facilities to boot. After 37 years, Kay retired Feb. 4 as one of four managers in Facility Operations.

Kay grew up near Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, graduating from Clarksville Northwest High School just across the Tennessee state line in 1977. He studied business at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville before moving to Jackson, Mississippi, a few years later. For three years he did geophysical field surveys for an oil company—when geologists would find land suitable for drilling, his job was to find out who owned the mineral rights and pursue a lease. It was in Jackson where he met his future bride, Michele.

Kay moved back to Clarksville and worked in real estate for a year before relocating to Tupelo. “I took the first job I could find,” he says, “and it was at Borden’s Milk and Ice Cream.” He and Michele married in May 1984. A few months later he answered a classified ad for a painter at NMMC. “After he retired from the military, my Dad was a self-employed painter,” Kay says. “I was his right-hand man.”

Kay landed the painter job and joined the NMMC team on Aug. 13, 1984. Around 1989, he became a carpenter and locksmith. His next role was as a Controls Team technician, where he helped maintain air handler controls.

With scholarship assistance from NMMC, Kay earned an associate degree in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) from Itawamba Community College in 1999 and transferred to the hospital’s Biomedical Department as an equipment technician.

He returned to Facility Operations on Oct. 1, 2001, as manager, a position he held for more than 20 years.

Much of Kay’s work centered around life-safety codes and regulatory agencies like the Mississippi State Department of Health and The Joint Commission. Career highlights include the addition of the hospital’s east, west and central bed towers. Including Women’s Hospital, the Behavioral Health Center and Longtown Medical Park, “I’ve seen almost every building pop up on campus,” he says.

But Kay said no doubt his best memory from NMMC has nothing to do with his job. “In 1990 a few of us were in the carpentry shop working one Friday and I was listening to them talk,” he says. “I told them it must be nice to have that peace and know that you’re going to Heaven if you die.” His two co-workers witnessed to Kay and encouraged him to read his Bible and think about it over the weekend. The following Monday they prayed with him on a makeshift altar, “and I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders,” he said.

Kay is well-known around NMMC for his homemade caramel pies. He has assured his co-workers that the pies will continue being delivered after he’s gone.

“I’ve loved what I’ve done. It’s going to be hard to disconnect,” he says about retirement. “It’s all about the relationships. I’m taking some amazing memories with me. I won’t miss the stress, but I will miss the people every day.”

He and Michele already have three big trips planned and also look forward to more time with their children and grandchildren. Their daughter, Wendy Coker (Alan), lives in Smithville with Conner, Bella and Kilik. Their son, Shaun Duncan (Lisa), lives in Tucson, Arizona, with Anthony, Ryan, Daniel, Alex and Michael. Their youngest son, Chris Duncan (Angel), lives in Baldwyn with Will.

Kay is a member of Tupelo Church of God, where he serves as multimedia specialist, as well as on the Pastor’s Council and leadership team. “I think my pastor has plans for me too,” he adds.

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