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Getting to know... Dr. Charles Kay

kaycdPhilosophy professor Charles Kay did not grow up quoting Nietzsche or pondering Plato. Instead, he was practicing the Hippocratic Oath.

“Since I was 5 years old,” says Kay when asked how long he dreamed of being a doctor. He would turn down med school, though, and now finds himself teaching courses he never took as a student. Still, the desire to care for sick people never left him, and today he is on both the Bioethics Committee of the South Carolina Medical Association and the Ethics Committee at Spartanburg Regional Medical Center.

“Medicine isn’t just about making people live longer,” says Kay. “It’s about caring for all their needs. Sometimes there are other issues involved like the patient’s family that have to be weighed and considered.”

Such depth of knowledge in a field he didn’t even choose to pursue isn’t surprising when you get to know Charles Kay. A simple sitdown chat with him reveals layer after layer of a fascinating life. Humble to a fault, he’ll tell you he has no interesting stories to tell. Then one by one they start to emerge…

• Kay, an avid Democrat helping Paul Corden’s bid for Congress, once danced with wife Peggy to the sounds of a saxophone-playing Bill Clinton at the 1992 Inaugural Ball in Washington, D.C.

• While Kay taught philosophy at Hampden-Sydney University in Virginia, television personality Stephen Colbert was taking philosophy classes there. Kay isn’t 100 percent positive he taught Colbert, but says it almost had to have occurred.

• He lived in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, literally. In graduate school Kay resided a few trolley stops away from the children’s television icon in Pittsburgh and would see him at local eateries.

• More recently, he regularly visited neighbor Sandor Teszler on weekends, where Teszler would pass his love of the opera on to Kay via a huge library of tapes he possessed.

• Speaking of libraries, Kay is on the Spartanburg Public Library board and will be president again next year. He says the library is an important cause for him because “it’s a place for people who can’t afford books to access knowledge.”

• Despite his love of books, he’s not averse to the Internet, where he has a profile on Facebook that he keeps up with pretty regularly.

• An avid chess player, he also plays an Eastern game called go and taught an Interim class on the subject. Fascinated by the structure of it, he says some people suggest America struggled in the Vietnam War because “we were playing chess while they were playing go.”

While these are all interesting aspects of Charles Kay, they don’t give you a true representation of who he is, because he is, first and foremost, a family man. On weekends he and his 95-year-old father go “birding” together, watching them on the lake near Kay’s home. And when the phone rings it might be son Thom, who graduated from Wofford just last year and is now working for Greenpeace in Washington, D.C.

The list of Kay’s accomplishments at Wofford, such as the highly successful Community of Scholars summer program that he directs, would be fodder for a much longer story. But this is about getting to know Charles Kay outside of academia. And it’s an endeavor that’s well worth the effort.