NORTH KINGSTOWN – If you’re having a diabetic meltdown, as I was last week, the place you want to be is Kay Cutting’s house.
At 82, her career as a professional dietician kicks in and, before you know it, there’s a glass of orange juice and a turkey sandwich in front of you.
Let’s all agree: Kay is a treasure.
Born on a farm in Lafayette, Katherine Harris Cutting says her parents’ dedication to helping others inspired her own life. “I had wonderful parents. They had a strong faith and their motto was ‘care, share and show your love.’”
As a result, Kay is well-known for political activism, volunteer work and church involvement.
She serves on a staggering number of boards and committees including the local and state GOP committees, the boards of the West Bay Family YMCA and the Corporations of South County Hospital, the Wickford Plan Committee and the North Kingstown Drug Prevention Coalition.
Kay volunteers as head of a committee that produces seasonal senior citizen lunches at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and has taught nutrition to the elderly and kindergartners at churches of every denomination. She is an advocate for hospital patients and deeply involved with Family and Friends of Murdered Victims.
She also works behind the scenes, quietly going about the business of doing good.
“It’s my mission,” she says. “Every day I say ‘God, give me something to do.’”
One of the things she does is symbolic of her faith. In the Christian tradition of sharing the sacrament, Kay gives away homemade bread to virtually everyone she meets.
“When I see a person, I say ‘I’ll give you bread.’” Among the recipients of her bounty are the oil delivery man who, after working 12 hours straight during a blizzard, was invited in and served an entire dinner.
She routinely sends trays of baked goods to local firefighters.
“I’m the Midnight Baker of Boston Neck,” she says with a little giggle. A neighbor of the North Kingstown United Methodist Church, she often arrives for the Sunday community meals bearing homemade desserts and mini-loaves of bread for diners to take home.
She laughingly declares herself “a real native swamper” who was born at home. Her grandfather, Stephen Levi Straight had an estate whose gardens “were so beautiful a weed wouldn’t dare come up.”
Kay is named for her grandmother Katherine McDuffy from whom she gets her love of all things Irish.
Her childhood memories speak volumes of a loving, nurturing family, including father Zeke and mother Annie.
“Dad would practice the bugle – he was in the National Guard – and I had a rope swing with a little wooden seat in the apple tree. There were blueberries in the woods and we had a well with crystal-clear ice water.”
Kay received her bachelor’s degree in nutrition from URI in 1951 and for the next two years interned at Cornell Medical Center in New York City, also working at Sloan-Kettering Hospital.
She marvels that she was able to make the transition.
“Here I was a country bumpkin but I became a real New Yorker, hailing cabs, going to the theater, dining at Tavern on the Green.” After all these years, she and her former classmates have reunions all over the country but there are only five of them left.
When Kay returned to Rhode Island, she spent 10 years earning her master’s while working. “It was,” she recalls, “a struggle.”
She would go on to teach nutrition to nursing students at Roger Williams Hospital where she was also the dietician responsible for redesigning the menu. “I checked out every tray before it left the kitchen.”
The mother of three daughters and a son and Grammie Kay to six grandsons, she was married for 46 years to longtime State Representative Harold Cutting, until his death in 1999. Although they were separated, when he became ill she took him in and cared for him.
Kay’s small dining room is occupied from one end to the other by a table that could accommodate an army which, over the years, it has. When her children were young, extra kids “came in and ate all the time,” she recalls.
In 1982, the defining event of Kay’s life occurred when her father was murdered in his furniture store. In addition to juggling other jobs and family obligations, she took over running Zeke’s place.
“It was a healing time. Every person who came in shared stories about him.” They told her of times he would learn of a family whose children had no beds and, when they got home, beds and cribs had magically appeared.
Police officers related accounts of going to Zeke with tales of struggling young couples with babies only to have him deliver enough furniture to fill an apartment.
While running the business and looking after her mother, Kay took up baking as therapy. And she began her outreach to others, causing one man to observe that her work was “like putting fresh flowers on your dad’s grave every day.”
Although she finds it “draining and upsetting”, she never misses a parole board hearing when Zeke’s murderer is up for release. “If I start to feel overwhelmed,” she says, “I think of my mother and her strength.”
Although she has received official acknowledgements of her public spiritedness, they aren’t really important to Kay.
“My biggest award,” she says, “is bringing happiness to others.”
As I leave her house she calls out, “Did you get your bread?”
Yes, I did. It’s pumpkin and it’s delicious.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .