Claudia Sue Helms Kay

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2016

On Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016, Claudia Sue Helms Kay peacefully fell asleep at St Luke’s Hospital, Columbus, N.C., and is now awaiting her Savior’s return. Born on Oct. 14, 1925 at Klonteska Inn in Banner Elk, N.C., which was owned and operated by her maternal grandparents, she was the daughter of Mary Sue Jennings Helms and Claud Hartsell Helms. She and her three siblings grew up in Tryon, N.C., where their father was town manager during the 1930s and 40s. She loved growing up in Tryon, where her family would walk the railroad tracks to Tryon Country Club and play a round of golf, then walk back home again. They also loved swimming and throwing pool parties at their home, which was a gathering place for friends young and old. She and her sister Frances had beautiful voices and performed at many local venues. Upon graduating from Tryon High School, she attended Maryville College, then transferred to Women’s College of Greensboro (UNC-G).

Upon graduation in 1946, she moved to New Bern, N.C., and was director of Christian education at Centenary Methodist Church. While in New Bern she met and married John “Jay” Kay. They then moved to Honea Path, S.C., where Claudia was a social worker for the state of South Carolina. Eventually the couple settled in Morganton, N.C., where John, along with Claudia’s father and brothers, formed Helms-Kay, Inc. While rearing her children, Claudia worked as director of Christian education at First Methodist Church, secretary to several businesses in Morganton, and secretary with the state of North Carolina. In her spare time, she founded and was president of Schubert Music Club, and was a faithful member/assistant director of the First Methodist Church Choir. She also loved working in her vegetable and flower gardens, and participating in community life. Her Christmas baked goods were legendary, and she was a wonderful cook. She, along with her mother, retired back to her beloved Tryon in 1990. They attended First Baptist Church in Landrum, S.C.

Through the years her family never saw her hands idle, as she pursued her passion for adding beauty to the world with her handiwork in crosstitch, knitting, crocheting, painting, stained glass, and intricate beaded jewelry. Her works grace the homes and lives of all she knew and loved. Her favorite word was JOY, and she declared herself the Joyful Beaded Bag Lady! Her heart knew no bounds where her children, grandchildren, friends, neighbors and animals were concerned. She believed in showering God’s love on all of those in her world, which extended to many organizations to help the less fortunate. She forever thought first of God, then others and lastly herself. Oh, and how she loved the beach! It was her sanctuary, and we shared many joyous weeks on various beaches in North carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Hawaii, the Bahamas and the Carribbean. Some of our fondest memories will be of those trips where we had to drag her off the beach after the last rays of the sunset each night, then she’d be back at dawn to soak it all in again!

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She leaves behind daughter Lura Kay Gee and husband Tim of Cary, N.C.; daughter Jane Ann Driscoll and husband Tim of Arden, N.C.; and son John Michael Kay of Arden. Also surviving are grandchildren Amelia Driscoll, Amanda Kay, Caleb Driscoll, Jonathan Kay, Gabrielle Kay, and her great-granddaughter Ophelia James. She also leaves many adoring nieces, nephews and others who treasured their Aunt Claudia. Last but far from least, she leaves her life-long best friend Kathleen Andrews Wagner of Tryon. She is predeceased by her parents, sister Frances Robinson and brothers Doug and Bill Helms.

The family are grateful to the staff at St. Luke’s Hospital for the tender, professional care they gave her during this most recent illness. Thank you for treating her like a beloved family member. She called you all, especially dear Doris, her sweet angels!

A small graveside service was held on Sunday, Jan. 10, at Polk Memorial Gardens. Claudia gave generously to a number of charities close to her heart. The family request those who feel inclined to pick a favorite charity and give, as a tribute to our beloved Claudia. We love you to the moon and back, dear Mother, Mama, Gang-Gang, Aunt Claudia and Little Friend!

An online guest register is available at

McFarland Funeral Chapel
Tryon, N.C.