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Longtime Society Columnist Laura Rollins Hockaday Dies At 79

Courtesy photo
Kansas City Public Library

Editors note: This story was updated at 10:35 A.M. Wednesday with comments from Irv Hockaday.

Laura Rollins Hockaday died Tuesday at St. Luke's Hospital.  She was 79.

Hockaday, who for decades chronicled the comings and goings of the social elite for the Kansas City Star, is being remembered today as a humble woman whose greatest legacy is the respect with which she related to all people.

"If I can make one point about Laura above all else," says Steve Shirk, an editor at The Kansas City Star for more than 40 years, "it was her sense of inclusiveness.  She was a pioneer in that way and made The Star better, made Kansas City better."

She came to the paper in the 1960's, starting out on what was known as the "Woman's Page."  Although she never cooked, she covered, among other things, the culinary arts. 

Hockaday later became the travel editor.  According to an interview she gave to Highbeam Business  in 1997, she was later offered the job of society editor, but she turned it down. 

"I said I would be willing to think about the position if the paper would let me cover the whole community, not just a segment of it,"  Hockaday told the publication.  Colleagues say she was aware of Kansas City's segregation and exclusivity at the time. Then-publisher James Hale agreed.  Minorities and their activities began to be regularly featured on some of the most widely read pages of the paper.

Her cousin and closest living relative is former Hallmark CEO Irv Hockaday. He and his wife Ellen  attended to their cousin's needs in her later life and were very close growing up.

Irv Hockaday calls his cousin a "force of nature."  He says she was ahead of her time as she insisted on expanding the definition of what The Kansas City Star traditionally considered "society."

"My wife Ellen and I would be out and about civically, " Hockaday says. "Often someone would come up to me, frequently a minority individual, and ask if I was related to Laura Hockaday.  When I told him I was, he'd say 'you should know before she came to the paper the only time a black person was pictured was when he was going to jail.  She changed all that.'" 

For her efforts. Hockaday was honored by the local branch of the NAACP, the Urban League and The National Council Of Christians and Jews, among others groups.

Hockaday came from aristocratic stock.  Her great-grandfather, James S. Rollins, was a U.S. Congressman from Missouri, a  lawyer and one of the founders of the University of Missouri.  Her extended family represent some of the scions of Kansas City business. 

Irv Hockaday says she remained true to those roots, particularly in her commitment both professionally and personally to philanthropy, but "she grew wings, which broadened her interests well beyond the traditional family focus," Hockaday says. "She became an admirer and advocate for many pockets of our community that many of us hadn't been exposed to."

Long time Star reporter and editor Jim Fitzpatrick remembers Hockaday for her warmth and the way she defied the stereotype of the society writer.  

"She was the most regular person you would ever find. She treated everybody so equally and with such respect and such openness," Fitzpatrick remembers.  "She would welcome new employees at the Star, come around and introduce herself with a big smile because she just loved The Star."

Hockaday had been admitted to St. Luke's Hospital with pulmonary issues a few weeks ago.  She went home to recover but was readmitted last weekend with respiratory distress and low blood pressure. 

In a journal entry early Tuesday morning on the website CaringBridge, her cousins Irv and Ellen Hockaday wrote:

"It is with great sadness that I tell you that Laura died peacefully tonight. She was removed from the ventilator Sunday morning ... Her mind was very clear and she was responsive ...  As the day wore on, Laura needed more oxygen to aid her breathing. She did not want life support and her wishes were honored." 

The Hockaday family says a there will be a private burial and ceremony.

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter and producer for KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or email lauraz@kcur.or

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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