Real Life

The essay that changed Bill and Kay's lives forever

Kay won a story competition – then won in life when she met her great love Bill

By Fleur Guthrie
In January 1953, there was some big news in the little Coromandel village of Te Puru. One of their locals, a talented 12-year-old girl called Kay Davis, had won the essay competition in the New Zealand Woman's Weekly, which scored her a new summer wardrobe and photoshoot.
It was the talk of the town.
"Mum had just picked me up from my piano lessons and we were walking home when the town store keeper came bounding out, shrieking, 'She won! She won!'" recalls Kay, now 84.
"We didn't know what he was talking about. Apparently, he'd told the whole village before I knew!
"The news had come by telegram through the post and, as he was the postmaster as well, he'd written out the telegram to deliver it to me. To be honest, I thought I'd won a wooden wardrobe to store clothes in!"
Kay kept all the photos of her time with the Weekly, where she modelled her new clothes with such finesse.
It was an amazing boost for the young schoolgirl, whose own childhood was tinged with sadness.
Suffering from chronic asthma, she had spent a lot of time off school. For her first seven years, Kay had also been in foster care as her single mother had initially been unable to both work and care for her.
"When I was growing up, living apart from my mum, I knew all about sadness," she shares. "Mum had to work to keep me and in those days, she didn't have child minders, so I was put into care with a wonderful family on a Waiomu farmlet.
"It was hard not being with her as a nipper because she was a lovely lady and a brilliant mum, but in retrospect, it was the perfect outcome for us both until she could take me back."
One day, while lying in bed sick, Kay was reading the Weekly when she saw an essay competition advertised.
So she poured her imagination – and insight of loneliness – into the winning essay, which was titled The Crying Clown.
The young essay writer wrote from the heart, "when I felt alone and that nobody cared".
It was about a "lovely old gentleman" who had worked in the circus for years but had been fired.
"The Weekly had published a picture of a distraught-looking clown and I remember thinking 'you poor old bugger' – which was a swear word back then!" says the retiree.
"So I imagined he had worked his whole life making people laugh and now he'd lost his job. And I used my personal experience of when I felt unwell, alone and that nobody cared."
Then-editor Jean Wishart told Kay the magazine would pay for her and her stepfather to come up to Auckland for her shopping spree.
Cover girl for a day!
As an added bonus, Jean and popular food writer, Tui Flower, would also take the pair out for a special lunch at the Farmer's store rooftop tearooms.
"I ordered sweetcorn fritters with bacon, which I'd never had before," remembers Kay. "Then we went to all the big shops. I picked out a flash coat, two new pairs of shoes with little heels on them, two summer frocks – one was in a beautiful sage green crepe material with a bib. It was all just so wonderful.
"I had never owned a hat before, but I'd always wanted one to wear to church. It was the first time I had owned new clothes – I only had hand-me-downs even into my high school days – so the whole thing felt like a miracle!"
After a photoshoot by the iconic Mission Bay water fountain, Kay returned home to new-found fame.
Her excited friends came over to try on her new clothes and a few weeks later, when she started at Thames High School, other students asked, "Did you appear in the Woman's Weekly?"
Mission Bay beauty! Kay was the talk of her Coromandel town and had a great time letting her friends try on her new threads.
More than 70 years on, Kay and her husband Bill Greig, 78, show our team all the cuttings and stunning black and white photos from that special time in her young life.
There's also another milestone they're sharing with us – their 50th wedding anniversary celebrated in December last year.
The couple met after Kay's first marriage had broken down. The mum-of-two was working as a senior machinist at the Hamilton Post Office Savings Bank when Bill, a technician for the counting machines, caught her eye.
Fifty magic years! Bill and Kay's love is still strong today.
"It took me a long time to want to settle down again after going through a separation," she tells. "But I thought he was a really neat guy."
And Bill, who jokingly calls her a "cougar" for dating a younger man, says, "I instantly felt so at home with Kay, so I took her out and bought her a jug of beer at the pub! She was a complete lady and cooked amazingly, which was the quickest road to my heart. We were made for each other and still are."
Left: The icing on the cake was meeting Bill.
Right: The newlyweds with Kay's kids Mark and Penny. Kay still looks beautiful in her wedding dress today!
They married at St Stephen's church in Melville with Kay choosing to wear a purple dress adorned with tiny flowers. (She still fits it and even wore it at their 50th anniversary party!)
With four grandchildren "by love, not by blood" through their son Mark's partner, and another four great grandchildren, life together has been good.
"It's been a perfect 50 years we've shared together," tells Kay. "We both enjoy camping. And if there's going to be a problem in your marriage, it's going to show up while camping!"
  • undefined: Fleur Guthrie

read more from