Oh, Kay! Liberal activist, editor Peaslee leaving Charlottesville

news-peaslee-smallKay Peaslee is moving to Indianapolis and will take along her cat Yang Guifei– named for the most famous concubine of the Tang Dynasty. PHOTO BY COURTENEY STUART

She covered news as the founder of the Observer, a long-lasting weekly paper, and made news as an activist who, along with her late husband Alexander "Sandy" Peaslee, pushed for the controversial–- but ultimately unsuccessful–- reversion of  Charlottesville to town status. Now, Kay Peaslee is preparing to start a new chapter.

"I'm moving to Indianapolis, to be near my youngest daughter," says Peaslee, sitting in her spacious downtown McGuffey Hill condo while her oldest daughter, Sarah Peaslee, packs boxes and sorts family photos in preparation for her mother's Thursday, March 4 departure.

Now 87, Peaslee says the decision to move was fairly sudden.

"I wasn't thinking about it, but my son-in-law called and wanted me to come live in a retirement community across the street from their house," she explains. And while excited to move closer to her three granddaughters–- the youngest still in high school–- she finds leaving Charlottesville "terribly hard," she says. "I have so many very important connections with it, and I will miss it terribly."

Kay and Sandy Peaslee arrived in Charlottesville in 1972 when Sandy–- a former diplomat whose career had previously stationed the family in far-flung locations including Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Brazil–- entered UVA Law School.

Although she retained a fascination for the Far East, Peaslee–- who graduated from Miami University in Ohio with a B.A. in political science–- found small town Charlottesville suited her.

"It's ideal in many respects," says Peaslee, "ecologically, intellectually, democratically."

She volunteered for organizations including Planned Parenthood, the United Way, and the League of Women Voters, and founded the McGuffey Readers book club. For decades, she remained a fixture at City Council meetings and supported her husband's late 1990 bid for U.S. Congress against ultimately victorious incumbent Republican D. French Slaughter Jr.

While Peaslee never made a secret of her liberal politics, she remained an "independent voice," says former Democratic city councilor Meredith Richards, particularly praising Peaslee's oversight of the Observer.

"She's a woman who knows her mind and speaks it, and backed it up with many many good works in the community," says Richards.

In 1988, Peaslee sold the Observer and watched its slow collapse through a succession of owners including–- perhaps ironically–- former Reagan-era cabinet member Donald Hodel.

Despite her advancing years, Peaslee–- whose husband died of cancer in 1996–- says she eagerly follows hot-button issues such as her hope that America might not only emulate the Canadian health care system but also (as she laughs uproariously) lend Sarah Palin to the northern nation.

In February, the McGuffey Readers honored Peaslee with a going-away luncheon–- an event for which 24-year-old grandson Alex Davis penned a short biography.

"Her legacy as an intellectual and radical leader," he wrote, "will continue to spur her family and friends to action and liberal thought."

And Richards voices a simpler sentiment: "She will be missed."

Correction: The Observer was not Charlottesville's first weekly paper.–ed

Read more on: Kay Peasleethe observer


"It makes her look like a crazy old cat lady who may or may not be talking to that cat!"

Yeah imagine that a crazy middle aged lady growing up to be a crazy old cat lady.

Thank you Kay, and all activists. I may not agree, but we need the discussion

"History" thinks that The Observer was probably not "Charlottesville's first local weekly." "History" is correct as I pointed out in a 14 September 2004 letter to C-Ville Weekly pasted in below. It was written in response to Sandy McAdams' published claim that his Times of Charlottesville had been the first such paper. In passing this along, I would just note that one of the more distressing aspects of life in contemporary Charlottesville is the near-complete lack of collective memory, the stuff of which context is composed and on which sound judgment and good planning are based.


As a bookseller, restaurateur, publisher and more, Sandy McAdams has no peer. As an historian of local journalism, however, he appears to be a bit out of his depth. In the course of wishing C-VILLE a happy 15th birthday [ââ?¬Å?Happy Birthday to Us,” September 7], McAdams wrote: ââ?¬Å?Twenty-five years ago, friends and I put together Charlottesville’s first weekly newspaper.”

Not quite. Charlottesville has been informed and entertained by a number of weekly newspapers in earlier eras. A far from exhaustive list (together with launch dates) includes The Central Gazette (1820), The Virginia Advocate (1827), The Jeffersonian Republican (1835), The Review (1860), The Piedmont Intelligencer (1869) and The Weekly Chronicle (1870). And closer to the present, we’ve had The Charlottesville Messenger (1909), The Charlottesville Guide (1931), The Charlottesville-Albemarle Tribune (1954), and The Jefferson Journal (1971), which folded less than three full years before McAdams and friends gave us The Times of Charlottesville (1976).

Most folks think journalism is about reporting what’s new. But there’s no way to know what’s new without knowing what came before. So, for your birthday, I wish you long life and longer memory.

Antoinette W. Roades

Thank you Kay for printing my very first editorial cartoon in the Observer August 1988. It was about opening up cross traffic on the mall. You didn't agree with the cartoon but you ran it. Now over 1,000 cartoons later, that first you ran is still the most imoportant one I ever did and I will remember you forever. I wish you much happiness in this next stage of your wonderful life...and my LOVE.

Thank you Kay for all you have done for the City of Charlottesville. You are leaving behind a wonderful legacy and example of civic engagement and speaking up for responsible government. I personally thank you for all you have shared with me, and hope, that I can carry on your work; to keep government honest and to make sure decisions are made in the best interest of all the citizens .

Thanks for knowing what news is and for providing it in accurate, useful abundance with and without Sandy by your side. Even though our political perspectives may have been somewhat different, you are a news and editorial hero to me. Thanks for being The Observer that you will always be! You are a journalism gem. Best wishes for many prosperous and productive years in Indianapolis. Take your vitamins so you can keep up with those grandkids!
Gary Grant
The Observer 1995-1998

Nice to know that anything that the editorial staff doesn't agree with gets deleted. Liberals and free speech, like Dracula and garlic.

Observer was not "Charlottesville’s first local weekly." There were many before it methinks.

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May I remind commenters to keep it civil and on topic. The Hook loves lively and respectful debate that focuses on the content of an article. Many of these comments haven't fit that description.-- Courteney Stuart

The Observer under the Peaslees was a fine newspaper. After it changed hands it went downhill fast and did not survive long.
And btw, whats wrong with talking to your cat anyhow?

Climategate: Charlottesville is just a better version of the Truman Show America elsewhere. And a place where retired spies, and others who serve the "problem" you describe are allowed to live. Possibly sent. In direct response to yr query, I would say that those who did try to do something did not stay in Cville. I bet that the John Grisham Democrats now have a vague unease about things, but still, they cling to illusions. It will not be long before the growing sense that something is really wrong on many fronts becomes unshakeable. A sense that the elite have their own safehaven plans and we have been left out. Discardable. There will not be much room for a normal life for anyone by the end of this year.

I'm sure she is a lovely person, but man, can't you guys come up with a better photo than the one you are using for this article? It makes her look like a crazy old cat lady who may or may not be talking to that cat!

Kay Peaslee has long been a role model for commitment to her communicty. I have not always agreed with her position, but greatly respect her engagement. I have to confess, though, my jaw dropped when I read near the end of the article she wants a Canadian style healthcare system in the U.S. I know we need changes, but not to emulate the Canadian system...........geez.

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Thanks for the reminder on 'Civil and on topic"....it was greatly appreciated by this reader.

Also, Mrs. Peaslee, travel well and best of luck! Make many new friends and enjoy your family!

How about by the end of time?! Here's hoping for Jesus to come back, kill everybody, and then resurrect all the believers!

It sucks hearing from elderly folks about all the great and wonderful things they got to do while they were young, knowing that they lived in a better time when those things could be done by ordinary folks, a timeowing we live in a worse time when only the wealthy can do them. I want to be happy for them, but at the same time I want to grab them and scream "WHY WEREN'T YOU FIGHTING DAVID ROCKEFELLER BACK THEN INSTEAD OF DOING ALL THESE FUN THINGS -DON'T YOU REALIZE WHAT HE AND HIS COHORTS WERE SETTING UP WHILE YOU WERE ENJOYING A NORMAL LIFE?" It's not jealousy, it's envy.

Thanks for that great history Antoinette. The "first" claim did not come from Ms. Peaslee-- it's entirely a Hook error. I'll correct.--Courteney Stuart

May health and happiness follow her!!!

Oh, here we go again. The age old "liberal vs. conservative" pissing contest. Tedious and tiresome.


Wah. Wah. Wah.

Conservatives: always crying because a private business deletes their ethnically or racially disparaging language, unverified information, gross insults, potentially libelous statements, and veering off the topic. wah, wah, wah.

Another thing liberals do: make decisions without any of the facts, which are optional in their collective confidence cult of self delusion.

Why don't you leave town with your gasbag whinemate? We have enough sandwich chefs here.

If me recalls correctly, and I'm sure I do, at least one of the Hook bigwigs was once know about town for his libertarian ways. Not really "liberal" that ideology, at least not in the way that those who toss "liberal" around as an insult know the word to mean.

confused, you're just going to upset the mertilator even more. he *wants* to whine about how his free speech is being suppressed. "help, help, I'm being oppressed!"

It's not "oppressed", as you said it's a private board. I don't speak liberalese where everything you don't like becomes a derogatory name because you're a child that never grew up. I just said liberals don't care about free speech, which is pure fact.

because you’re a child that never grew up. I just said liberals don’t care about free speech, which is pure fact.

Maybe in your small mind Mertiliar

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Peace & health to Kay. We honor her for what she & Sandy did with the Observer so many years ago.

I second John Howland! And I can't think of a person I like seconding any better! Kay, travel well and give that daughter a hug!