Sister, wife, mother, artist, style icon. Born on Sept. 21, 1926, in Truro, N.S.; died on Feb. 16, 2014, in London, Ont., in her sleep, aged 87.
Kaye’s lifelong devotion to family was a natural extension of her upbringing in Truro, N.S. Born in 1926 to Gertrude and Joseph Burke, her stories of life at 20 Centre St., growing up with five sisters and one brother, were legendary. Piano music in the parlour, bedrooms shared by many kids, wartime boarders, Alice Street School, summers spent with Acadian grandparents in Wedgeport – all the tales painted a vivid portrait of growing up in Depression-era, small-town, Catholic Nova Scotia. It was never completely clear what Grandpa Burke did for a living; he seemed to be part-time railway worker, barber, possibly even a cartoonist. What was clear was that their home was always filled with love, trust and lots of people.
Music and family went hand-in-hand for the Burkes. Well into her 80s, Kaye played boogie-woogie piano by ear and could yodel with the best of them. Her signature piano piece, Stormy Weather, was recorded in a Toronto studio in 1950. Throughout her life, Kaye also adored dancing, whether it was the Charleston, the kickline, or tap.
After the Second World War, Kaye and sister Marie headed to Ontario in search of opportunities. Kaye settled in London, while Marie, a trained teacher, headed to Barrie. Two of their younger sisters soon followed, with each of the older sisters agreeing to shepherd a younger girl.
Kaye worked as a receptionist at Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. for a time. In 1953, she married Jack Adams, a young chartered accountant who had served as a navigator during the war. By 1960, they had three children (Peter, Paul and Annmarie) and Kaye’s time was completely devoted to husband and family.
Jack’s career skyrocketed over the years. He was chairman of the board of Emco Ltd., president of the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants and served as chief executive of F.W. Woolworth in New York. Through every turn, Kaye was at his side, accompanying him on business trips and ensuring that his domestic life was A-okay.
The Ontario-based Burke sisters – eventually five in all – were remarkably close. They married within a few years of each other, serving as each other’s bridesmaids. They had their babies together. They finished each other’s sentences and shared clothes. In the 1980s, Kaye and sister Dorothy had a jewellery design business, which gave her immense pride and pleasure.
Kaye was also an accomplished painter and took courses with Roly Fenwick at the University of Western Ontario. Her various homes were exquisitely decorated. Her personal style was classic and elegant: one part Katharine Hepburn, two parts Kaye Adams.
Perhaps because of her modest roots on Centre Street, Kaye had an extraordinary ability to put people at ease. She mostly did this through renowned baked goods and concise language. Her apple and blueberry pies were unsurpassed. Always positive and decisive, she was known for answering nearly any yes-or-no question with two words: “You bet.”
Widowed in 2004, and despite a long disabling illness, she continued to function as a loving mother and grandmother while maintaining her dignity in her own home. Was this an achievement to be celebrated? You bet.
Annmarie Adams is Kaye’s daughter.