Kathleen O’Brien Neitzey
Essay by Julia and Liz Lewis
Kathleen Ellen O’Brien Neitzey, called Kay by her family, was fun and funny, a defiant and strong-willed survivor who overcame tragedy. She would need all these qualities when attempting to open the door for girls to play softball in Little Compton during the 1970s.
Kay was the fourth of five children born to Margaret and George O’Brien, and made her home in the Brookland neighborhood of North East Washington, D.C. Under that first roof at 4014 Michigan Avenue she met four of her longest and truest friends, her brother Terry and her sisters Mary Ann, Margie and Patricia.
At the age of 7, after a bus hit Kay on her way to school, doctors informed Mrs. O’Brien that they would need to amputate her daughter’s leg in order to save her life. Kay’s mother leaned over and shared the news with her daughter, “I wish they could take my leg instead of yours,” she said. And Kay looked up at her and replied, “I wish they could take your leg too.” Losing her leg did not stop her; her mother and father would not allow it. She led a vibrant athletic life: swimming, playing softball and basketball.
Kay attended The Catholic University of America. She graduated with a degree in elementary education and philosophy. She taught sixth grade at St. Anthony’s, her parish school and second grade at St. Ambrose in Cheverly, MD. Later in life she would tutor adult English language learners in Little Compton. She would also serve on the Little Compton School Committee for two terms.
Her journey to Little Compton would begin on July 9, 1960, when she married Joseph Neitzey.
Kay and Joe moved many times in those first 8 years, then in 1968 they built their home and life in Little Compton. They raised three children here, Julia, Philip, and Clare. When Clare expressed a desire to play baseball in elementary school, the little league elders declined. They told Kay that baseball was not for girls because the language was too salty. Undaunted, Kay founded the Little Compton Girls Softball League. Decades later, after Kay’s passing, her children would be approached by women who played in the league. They expressed their condolences as well as their gratitude for the camaraderie, competition, and challenges the league offered. They recalled fond memories of Mrs. Neitzey’s kind and humorous coaching style, while sometimes on her crutches. Their appreciation for the league’s founding was conveyed with heartfelt thanks.
Kay taught her children and grandchildren to put love of God first. She went on to teach CCD and advise St. Catherine’s youth group. When an accident nearly claimed Philip’s life as a young Marine, Kay’s strength and faith saw them through. Her upbringing and recovery had instilled a belief in self-reliance, but she was also devoted to the voiceless and defenseless. That led her to co-chair with Joe, St. Catherine’s first Respect Life Committee, which they did for many years. Kay was well informed and well read. She learned early that a meaningful life has a point of view and expresses it clearly.
She loved card games – in earlier years, Bridge with her friends and for the past three decades, Rummy games with her grandchildren. She loved the Brownell Library book club, the Washington Redskins, Jeopardy, Peanut M&Ms and Milano cookies. She cherished phone calls with her grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and she never missed a birthday.
She developed an awe for the Atlantic Ocean, and spent many hours parked at South Shore Beach with Joe beside her. There they would sit at South Shore nearly every day, sometimes under moonlight; sometimes through coastal fog; sometimes lit by the fading pink twilight of Little Compton’s beautiful western sky.
Julia Lewis (daughter) & Liz Lewis (granddaughter)
Essay by Andrew Chartier
A funny strong-willed survivor who overcame one big obstacle in her life. She was born in 1937, on August 4th, in her home in the Brookland neighborhood of North East Washington, D.C. Kathleen was the fourth of five children with sisters and brothers named Terry, Margie, Mary Ann and Patricia. Her parents were Margaret and George O’Brien. Margaret and George called her by Kay. Kathleen’s Dad worked in the Pennsylvania steel mills, but then later moved to Washington D.C to find a safer job.
Kathleen went to school at St Anthony’s for elementary, middle school and high school in Washington D.C. At just seven years old, tragedy struck while walking to school, she was hit by a bus. Doctors informed Kathleen’s mom that they would need to amputate her daughter’s leg in order to save the life of Kathleen. Margaret, her mom, stayed with Kathleen in the hospital trying to get the doctors to save as much of the leg as possible. Unfortunately, the doctor said the leg would need to be taken right above the knee. After Kathleen and her mom talked for a while the doctor proceeded with the amputation.
They gave Kathleen an artificial leg that she would have to use for the rest of her life. But that did not mean brave Kathleen would give up. After the accident, when she returned home, she went to the baseball field called Turkey Thicket and watched the games in her wheelchair. She was greeted by all her friends too.
As time went on, she continued to play all the sports she loved such as softball, swimming, and basketball. In softball, a pinch runner would run for her after she hit the ball. She was an excellent pitcher. In basketball she would play only half court and could rebound with her height and perseverance. Kathleen continued to have many operations after the amputation to remove bone spurs as the bones grew in her leg. Her parents tried to push her to have a normal life.
Kathleen always wanted to be a teacher when she grew up. She later went on to attend The Catholic University of America. She taught sixth grade at St. Anthony’s parish school and second grade at another parish in Maryland named St. Ambrose. Then on July 9, 1960, she married Joseph Neitzey, which she recalls as the best thing that had ever happened to her. He was a brave man and he worked as a firefighter. They moved many times in the first 8 years, but they soon built their home and settled down in Little Compton. They raised three children by the names Philip, Julia and Clare.
In Little Compton, Kathleen loved being part of the LC Brownell Library Book Club. She also served on the Little Compton School Committee for two terms. One day, Kathleen’s daughter, Clare expressed a desire to play baseball but the little league elders declined. They all said the language in baseball was “too salty”, meaning there was too much bad language for her to play. It was just not for girls apparently. But Kathleen’s strong will pushed her to found the Little Compton Girls Softball League during the 1970’s. Many of the players recall fond memories of the funny humorous coaching style Mrs. Neitzey had.
Kathleen taught her children and grandchildren to always put the love of our God first which is why Katlhleen was drawn to teach CCD at St. Catherine of Siena Church in Little Compton. Kathleen was very devoted to God. Philip, one of Kathleen’s children, experienced a terrible accident in the Marines that nearly ended his life. Luckily, he ended up in recovery and survived. The faith that Kathleen and Philip had gave them the strength they needed to get through this difficult time..
Even though Kathleen had faced many hardships in life, she also had many fun times. Her daughter Julia recalls how excited her Mom was on her 60th Birthday. She explained that her mom took a balloon ride with her granddaughter, Monica, and the balloon landed in a big field in Westport, Mass. Julia explained how happy her mom was on that day.
Kathleen was also a huge football fan; she especially loved the Washington Redskins. She also enjoyed watching Jeopardy. Kathleen was a huge lover of card games such as Bridge and Rummy. She would play with her grandchildren and cherish those little phone call moments with any of the grandchildren, nieces or nephews. According to her daughter Julia, Kathleen was so proud of how close all the family was. Even though Kathleen went through many difficulties, she let all those bad feelings go away when she would sit near the South Shore Beach with her husband. Her and her husband would go to the beach almost every night and sometimes together look up at the beautiful western sky.
Kathleen Neitzey was very important to Little Compton because she opened the door for girls to be able to play softball and she also never gave up even when she lost her leg. She continued to play sports and she became a teacher to many kids. She was born in 1937 and she died in 2018.
Based on an interview with Kathleen Neitzey’s daughter, Julia Lewis, April 2, 2020.
Written by: Andrew Chartier, Grade 5 – Wilbur & McMahon School
Essay by Brenna Cannon
Who had her leg amputated but still played the sports that she loved? Who graduated from college with an elementary teaching and philosophy degree? Who has done so many great things in their life? Kathleen Neitzey, that’s who.
Kathleen Neitzey was born on August 4, 1937. From a young age, she preferred the nickname Kay. Kay had a pretty great childhood. She played many sports like softball, basketball, and swimming and made many friends. As a child, she lived in Northeast Washington D.C. in an apartment. Her life was just fine. But then, one day, when she was walking to school, a school bus hit her. Later that week she was told by the doctors that they would have to amputate her leg. However, that never stopped her from doing what she loved. She continued to play sports and have fun.
Kay went to elementary school, high school, and would later attend the Catholic University of America. She finally graduated from college with an elementary teaching and philosophy degree. Since Kay was so smart, she was able to have many jobs. First, she taught 6th grade at St. Ambrose in Cheverly MD. Later on, Kay would go to Little Compton to tutor adult English.
Kay’s parents were Margaret and George O’Brien. She was the fourth of five children. She had one brother Terry and three other sisters Mary Ann, Margie, and Patricia. She had a great friendship with all of them. She moved to Little Compton on July 9th, 1960 and soon she would marry Joseph Neitzey. She later had three children Julia, Philip, and Clare.
Kay cared about others. In Kay’s free time, she worked hard to get her daughter Clare able to play baseball. Since there were not many girls sports, she would have to play with the boys. But the little league elders would not let Clare play. The little League elders simply told Kay no because the language was “too salty” and it was a sport for boys, not girls. So Kay founded the Girls Softball League. When Kay was not coaching sports she was at church. Kay was very catholic. God came first in her life. Kay wanted to be as involved as she could. So she was a CCD teacher and also the co-chair for St. Catherine Church.
As Kay grew older, she found more interest like card games and phone calls from the grandchildren. Her favorite things were the Washington Redskins, the show Jeopardy, Peanut M&Ms candy, and Milano cookies. Kay sadly passed away on May 26, 2018, at the age of 80. But she will always be remembered.
I chose to write about the wonderful Kathleen Neitzey because I feel she is a great role model and inspiration. She overcame many challenges like living with one leg. She also fixed problems and stuck up for what she believed in. For example, think about when the little league elders would not let her child play baseball. How would that make you feel? Well, that made Kay feel mad and determined. So, she created the girl’s softball league and that problem was solved. Kay was religious and was a hard worker, and that is why I picked her.
Written by: Brenna Cannon, Grade 5 -Wilbur McMahon School
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