UTA Magazine
Changing Lives: Kay Pinkerton
Seeing through the fog

One look at her father, at the grief in his eyes, and suddenly there was Kay Pinkerton on that September afternoon in 1990 with a 10-year-old daughter and no job satisfaction, no college degree, no idea what to do. These are the things that happen when life turns upside down.

Kay Pinkerton

Just a few hours before, everything had been different. The world made sense.

Then the telephone rang.

Her father answered and met Pinkerton in the driveway as she and her mother pulled in from running errands. “The minute I saw his face, I knew what had happened,” Pinkerton said recently. “It was surreal. I was … numb.”

Nick, her husband of 12 years, was dead.

He was working atop a crane-like structure called a snubbing unit in the oilfields outside Beaumont. The thing toppled when Nick’s supervisor loosened a wire used to hold the rig steady in the wind. Nick fell four stories and was dead on arrival at a Beaumont hospital. Testing never did determine why the rig collapsed.

Kay, who was visiting her parents in Dallas at the time, returned to Southeast Texas with a head full of questions. She was a 32-year-old widow and mother who had to start over.

“The world kind of falls out from under your feet,” she said, “and you’re like, ‘Now what?’ ”

She returned to the Metroplex and took a secretarial job to help her settle in. But she wasn’t satisfied.

She decided to honor Nick’s life by pursuing a college degree, something both had always wanted. But it wasn’t an easy decision. The thought of coursework proved intimidating.

“College algebra? All those things? It had been years since I was in a classroom. But I just had to do it.”

So she did, enrolling at UTA after a semester at Dallas Baptist University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations in 1995, graduating cum laude. Things were looking up. She worked as a media relations specialist for eight years, half of that time at two of the largest firms in Dallas. Her clients included Fujitsu, Paragon and several other technology companies.

“UTA’s students and faculty were wonderful during those painful, fog-filled days,” she said. “They were my mentors, tutors and friends. The faculty, especially, were very patient with the depression that tangled the journey to progress. … In more ways than one, UTA saved my life.”

Now Pinkerton, 46, has come back to pursue a master’s degree in communication. She expects to make Nick doubly proud next year. In working toward another graduation, she also discovered a new passion—communication research.

Charla Markham Shaw, an associate professor of communication for whom Pinkerton was a research assistant last fall, said her star pupil doesn’t take the easy way out in finding research material.

“She got me dozens of abstracts and far-removed articles,” Dr. Shaw said. “If she had to fill out a form and order something from another library, she did. She didn’t just print out what was there on the library’s Web site. She went above and beyond.”

While it’s possible that Pinkerton will return to media relations someday, she thinks she would like a career in either public or proprietary research. Her primary interest is how the United States is perceived internationally, especially in predominantly Islamic nations.

She has a million other ideas, too. “Every time I see something, I’m like, ‘That would be good research!’ I just enjoy doing this so much.”

It’s a love she passed on to daughter Candice, 25, who’s in nursing school in Georgia.

Now, almost 15 years after the accident, everything makes sense again.

“There’s nothing in this world you can’t do, if you put your mind to it,” she said. “I feel very blessed.”

— Danny Woodward

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