During the last years of her life, leadership of the Topeka Zoo and Conservation Center had the privilege of working with Kay McFarland on the development of a world class garden. Kay particularly enjoyed the lushness of Japanese style gardens. Upon her death, Chief Justice Kay McFarland established a living trust to fund Kay’s Garden through Friends of the Topeka Zoo. Those funds will ensure the development and sustainability of the garden for years to come. The 2-acre garden will be a place for quiet reflection on the beauty of nature and the art of living in harmony with one another and with all things.
As one enters the gateway of the garden, they are surrounded with nature that inspires the mind and energizes the soul. Beauty, grace, and serenity are present. Walking down the wooded path, you sense the sweet smell of the air, hear the sound of a meandering stream bubbling over rocks, and pause to enjoy the beautiful colors of the landscape. A small stone walkway takes you further to the shore where koi resemble living flowers that bring a flash of color to the shallow waters. You have found peace.
From a distance, you see a beautiful water garden and lotus bog resting on the placid water’s surface. It is a perfect aid to contemplation. You walk over the bridge, which is intended not solely as a means of crossing shore to shore but to provide an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of the garden, the softness of a cool breeze, the reflection of sunlight on the foliage, and the beautiful flash of color from koi fish swimming below.
Beautiful trees, shrubs and plants are revealed in vignettes as you continue strolling down the winding path.
The garden is laid out to present seasonal change from budding new leaves of spring to the coolness of summer shade, the changing colors of autumn to bare trees of winter lightly covered in snow. Regardless of what season you visit, the garden will serve as a place for reflection, meditation, and tranquility – all of which were important to Kay as a means to grasp serenity from the hustle and bustle of busy life.
The Gallery and Events Center at Kay’s Garden will not only highlight Kay’s accomplishments, but will also honor the incredible acts of courage and determination of the many women of Kansas who, like Chief Justice Kay McFarland, have served as trailblazers in their profession.
Chief Justice Kay E. McFarland
Former Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Kay Eleanor McFarland passed away peacefully at home on Tuesday, August 18, 2015, following a brief illness. She had recently celebrated her 80th birthday at a dinner attended by friends, including members of what she considered her “court family.”
Kay was born on July 20, 1935, in Coffeyville, Kansas, the daughter of Dr. Kenneth Warren McFarland and Clara Eleanor Thrall McFarland. Dr. McFarland served as superintendent of schools in Coffeyville and moved the family to Topeka when he accepted the position of Superintendent of Schools for U.S.D. 501. The family eventually built a home on the land that is the current site of the McFarland Farm development. Kay attributed her lifelong love of animals to the many horses and other pets she raised on that land.
She graduated magna cum laude from Washburn University in 1957 with dual majors in English and history-political science. Following her graduation from law school in 1964, she was engaged in the private practice of law. In 1970, she defeated the incumbent judge to become the first woman elected to a judgeship in Shawnee County, taking office as judge of the probate and juvenile courts in January 1971. She delivered on her campaign promise to enact reforms that would reduce serious juvenile offenses by more than half. She became the first woman elected as a Shawnee County district judge in 1972, taking office in January 1973.
On September 19, 1977, she was appointed to the Kansas Supreme Court by Governor Robert Bennett, becoming the first woman to hold that office. She became Chief Justice on September 1, 1995, upon the retirement of Chief Justice Richard Holmes. Again, she was the first woman to hold that office. She served as Chief Justice until her retirement in 2009. Her more than thirty-one year tenure on the Supreme Court is one of the longest in Kansas history. Many of the opinions she authored are available online at www.kscourts.org, and hundreds of other non-electronic format opinions are available in the bound volumes of the Kansas Reports.
As Chief Justice, Kay never forgot her years in the district court. She understood and greatly appreciated the difficult work of district court personnel throughout the state, and she enjoyed meeting and visiting with judges, court administrators, clerks of the district court, court services officers, court reporters, and other personnel. You were members of her court family.
Kay was not one to speak of her accomplishments, but she was pleased to receive the first annual Kay McFarland award from the Women Attorneys Association of Topeka, which is to be given annually to the individual who has achieved professional excellence in her field, influenced women to pursue legal careers, opened doors for women lawyers in a variety of job settings that were historically closed to women, and has advanced opportunities for women within a practice area or segment of the profession.
In addition to the law, Kay’s interests and talents were many and varied. She was a world class show ring rider of Tennessee Walking horses, including the award winning Midnight Secret, and bred champion Irish wolfhounds from stock brought directly from Ireland. She was also an expert seamstress and quilter.
Kay traveled the world. Her father’s work as an educational consultant and motivational speaker for the Reader’s Digest and General Motors provided early opportunities for domestic and foreign travel. Her love of travel continued throughout her life, including three African safaris with former Topeka zoo director, Gary Clarke.
She was the consummate story teller. Kay’s travels, background, experiences, and knowledge provided her with much material, but it was her ability to find the humor in almost any situation and her keen observations regarding human nature that made her stories unique. Her childhood years spent in Coffeyville and visiting relatives in Caney, Kansas, were as frequently the subjects of her stories as were her travels to exotic locations throughout the world. Simply put, she enjoyed people and their situations wherever she found them.
Kay was preceded in death by her parents and a brother, James Warren McFarland. A former sister-in-law, Pat Hess, survives. She is remembered by many members of her court family throughout the state.