HALLE, KATHERINE MURPHY (13 Oct. 1903 - 7 Aug. 1997) was the daughter of Blanche and Samuel Halle. Kay’s father and uncle had established Cleveland’s HALLE BROTHERS COMPANY in 1891 to cater to the carriage trade, and the firm grew to become one of the city’s premier EUCLID AVE. department stores. The family was deeply involved in Cleveland’s cultural and social life and Kay attended the best schools including LAUREL SCHOOL in SHAKER HEIGHTS, Miss Wheeler's Finishing School in Providence, Rhode Island, and Smith College. It was soon apparent that Kay possessed special talents in music, drama, and exposition. After returning to Cleveland from Smith College she studied piano at the CLEVELAND INSTITUTE OF MUSIC and launched herself enthusiastically into support of the Cleveland cultural and arts scene, especially regarding the CLEVELAND ORCHESTRA.
In 1931, Kay became romantically involved when she met Randolph Churchill, the son of Winston Churchill, who was in Cleveland beginning his lecture tour of America with a talk at Cleveland’s English Speaking Union. The two hit it off immediately and spent time together over the ensuing days. Randolph was soon invited to visit the Halle residence on Harcourt Road in CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, where he met Kay's family. Shortly afterward, 19-year-old Randolph proposed marriage to 27-year-old Kay. Although she decided against the marriage, Kay, Randolph, and the Churchill family were to remained close friends. Kay's sister Ann said "she was afraid of losing her freedom." During her lifetime Kay would receive 64 proposals of marriage, all of which she declined.
It was in the early 1930s, that Kay hit her stride. Randolph Churchill had encouraged her to 'look over the hedgerow' to see what the rest of the world had to offer. Kay did far more than just look over that hedgerow launching herself into a successful career in journalism and writing. Over the years, Kay would publish four books about Winston and Randolph including: Irrepressible Churchill, Churchill on America and Britain, Randolph S. Churchill: The Young Pretender, and The Grand Original. Kay lived in England in 1931, and was a frequent guest at the Churchills’ home Chartwell . What she especially admired about Churchill was "his verbal felicity and ingenuity with which he transposed his thoughts into so many striking phrases...blowing them into the air like so many coloured bubbles." At Chartwell she met many prominent people which inspired her to create “On the Boulevard,” a regular column which she wrote for the CLEVELAND NEWS. In 1932, Winston Churchill embarked upon a lecture tour of the United States, during which he stayed with the Halles at their Cleveland Heights home.
Kay moved to New York City in 1932, and her apartment became a salon where famous people from all walks of life could gather in a relaxed and congenial atmosphere. The list of her close personal acquaintances included the Roosevelts and Kennedys and numerous Washington DC luminaries. Other notable friends were: Sinclair Lewis, Fred Astaire, Irving Berlin, Helen Hayes, Cole Porter, and George Gershwin. It was in Kay's apartment that George Gershwin sat down at her piano to complete the composition of “Summertime,” for his opera ‘Porgy and Bess’. Of herself, Kay said, "I much prefer working behind the scenes. I like being a catalyst, bringing people together...I find you can achieve much more that way." Her brother-in-law GEORGE CRILE, son of CLEVELAND CLINIC's founder, put it more simply "Kay just loves people."
Although living in New York, Kay never lost her love for Cleveland and beginning in 1938, she broadcast a radio show entitled Know Your City, to encourage Clevelanders' appreciation of their own home town. Always on the move, Kay embarked on an extended 18,000 mile flying trip around South America in 1940, regularly recording her impressions of people and places, which were broadcast on Cleveland station WGAR. In 1941, having completed her South American tour, Kay returned home to become The Cleveland Orchestra's intermission commentator, a post she frequently filled well into the 1950s.
During WWII, Kate spent four years in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Washington D.C., where she received training for parachuting behind enemy lines, including the use of handguns and the deployment of land mines. She said that "it gave a real sense of a mission....The most rewarding thing I remember in all my professional life was the letters I would receive from a submarine crew in Alaska after my Cleveland Orchestra shows. They wrote that they waited to hear my voice come to them up there in that wilderness." Around the office she was known as “Mata Halle.”
In the mid-1950s Kay made Washington D.C. her permanent home, and when John F. Kennedy won the 1960 Presidential election, he asked Kay to join his inaugural committee. When she heard what the planned guest list was she expressed her opinion in the most forceful manner "My God what is this dribble? What about inviting the intellectual community, the cultural community?" This unprecedented suggestion resulted in nearly 200 leaders of the arts, humanities and sciences being present as guests, a first for any Presidential inauguration. In addition to her inaugural committee work, Kay was appointed by Kennedy to the advisory committee for what was to become the Kennedy Center.
During Kennedy's Presidency Kay initiated and shepherded a campaign to make Winston Churchill an Honorary United States citizen. This honor was granted by Congress, and its presentation was made by President Kennedy in 1963. When the British Embassy in Washington D.C. was preparing to erect a statue of Winston Churchill on the Embassy grounds, Kay suggested that the statue be placed so that one of Winston's feet would be on British Embassy soil, and the other on American soil just outside the Embassy. Winston's statue stands today in both countries, in appropriate recognition of his dual citizenship and lineage. Fittingly enough, the competition to design the statue was won by Cleveland sculptor William McVey.
In 1968 Kay received the honor of Officer in the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE) from Queen Elizabeth II, a well-earned privilege and acknowledgement of her work in support of Anglo-American relations.
Still active at age 73, Kay served on the Bicentennial Committees of both Cleveland and Washington D.C. in 1976 and was friend and aid to Alice Longworth, Teddy Roosevelt's daughter. As she said "There is so much to be done. Life is more interesting than fiction."
Kay passed away at the age of 93. Her papers are preserved at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.
Frank E. Wrenick
Last updated: 10/6/2023