Gay B. WILKES(1918 - 2014)


February 28, 1918-July 12, 2014

Gay Barr Wilkes was born in Bowie, Texas, on February 28, 1918, to James Martin Barr and Manisa Guthrie Barr. She often said she was the luckiest person in the world because born five minutes ahead of her was her identical twin, Fay Barr Kastelic, her lifelong best friend. Around Bowie, they were known simply as the "Barr Twins." In 1938, with $50 each in their pockets, they left for Austin and enrolled at the University of Texas.

Gay left college in 1941 to marry the man for whom she held the deepest love and respect, the newly graduated civil engineer, Jack Wilkes. They moved to Washington D.C., where both worked for the Navy Department. In 1947, Jack left for Manila, Philippines, to serve as a bridge engineer for the Bureau of Public Roads. Six months later, Gay followed with their two little girls and soon opened a Five & Dime Store in the American compound.

In 1950, the family returned to Austin, Texas and built a home in the new neighborhood of Rollingwood. When her third daughter entered kindergarten, Gay headed back to UT to finish her degree, a life ambition and, in her words, the highlight of her education. She then forged a career in teaching, first substituting at Fulmore Junior High for a teacher on maternity leave - Ann Richards, the future governor of Texas. Elected to Delta Kappa Gamma, an honorary teaching organization, she then taught for four years at Martin Middle School in Raleigh, N.C., where she helped push for a long-overdue teacher pay raise; and for 14 years at Annandale High School in Springfield, Va., where she won Teacher of the Year several times. Through teaching, she shaped thousands of lives, all the while making the profession sound like the most fun job in the world.

Gay loved teaching geography. Ever the pusher of boundaries, she subscribed to "USSR," a propaganda magazine, for use in her classroom; she proudly thought that the subscription landed her on a CIA list of suspicious characters. She later visited Russia, and she was one of the first American citizens to gain permission to travel in China in 1976, when the gates at Canton opened.

An avid reader and follower of Book Talk on PBS, she was also keenly interested in politics. Gay, a staunch Democrat, and Jack were on opposite ends of the political spectrum. When Fay ran for city council in Pueblo, Co. - and later for mayor - Gay was right by her side. The twins always dressed alike when they were together and had great fun confusing people in both Austin and Pueblo.

Returning to Austin in the mid-80's, she and Jack continued to organize the annual Federal Highway Administration reunions, travel broadly, play golf, and cook pecan waffles for all the guests who stayed in their home. In her own words, one of her proudest achievements was the ability to make and keep friends. Among her many associations, her favorite was the Wednesday Night Great Hills Ladies Talking and Drinking Club.

Jack died in 2004 of cancer, and in a miraculous coincidence, Gay and Fay suffered identical strokes on the same day in 2010, 800 miles apart. Fay died four days later. Lovingly cared for in her home by Ariana Sanchez and Blanca Pantoja, Gay died peacefully on July 12, 2014.

She is survived by her daughters: Theo Coonrod (David) of Austin; Trudy Glasscock of Ringgold, Va.; and Gay Lee Pearce (Ken) of Houston; seven grandchildren: Seth Van Winkle, Sara Alvarez, Joshua Glasscock, Gabriel Tuttle, Theo Vogel, Salem Pearce, and Jordan Pearce; and ten great-grandchildren.

A memorial service for Gay will be held at 2:00 on Sunday, July 20, at Cook-Walden Funeral Home, 6100 North Lamar, with a viewing starting at 1:00.

Memorial gifts in Gay's honor can be sent to Saint Mary's School, 900 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NC 27603.

Funeral Home

Cook-Walden Funeral Home
6100 North Lamar Austin, TX 78752
(512) 454-5611

Published in Austin American-Statesman from July 18 to July 19, 2014