Adelaide Worth Daniels Key

Aug 21, 2014

ASHEVILLE — George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the community.” This was Adelaide Daniels Key’s philosophy of life, and she lived it until her passing Aug. 20, 2014. Adelaide died at home surrounded by her family and close friends after a two-year battle with cancer.

Born Dec. 10, 1935, in Durham, to Jonathan Daniels and Lucy (Cathcart) Daniels, Adelaide grew up in Raleigh and lived most of her early life in that area. Adelaide was the granddaughter of Josephus Daniels who, in 1894 at the age of 19, bought the Raleigh News and Observer and built it into one of the nation’s most successful newspaper companies of its time. He instilled in Adelaide at an early age the importance of philanthropy and community service. Her grandfather and her father, Jonathan Daniels, were active nationally in Democratic politics and were key players in American history. Josephus served as secretary of the Navy during Prohibition and her father served as special assistant and then press secretary to Pres. Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of Adelaide’s earliest childhood memories was playing charades in the White House with president and Eleanor Roosevelt and their grandchildren.

In 1964, Adelaide moved to Franklin with her husband and young family. She loved being a mother to her four children and was very active in their lives and in the Franklin community. She then moved to Asheville in 1987 following a divorce.

In 1990, living in Asheville and newly single, she sold her interest in the family publishing business, and used the new-found wealth to establish the Adelaide Worth Daniels Foundation, giving her full attention to the philanthropy, activism and public service she loved. With her financial resources and time, she worked for social justice for those less fortunate in North Carolina, especially, but not limited to, child welfare and family services and expanding educational opportunities for all.

Adelaide met Maggie Smith in 2000 and became fast friends. A romantic relationship developed and the two were married in a public ceremony in 2007 and then legally in Connecticut in 2013. As partners in life and philanthropy the two have worked together for the benefit of Asheville’s community and continued to co-host benefits for candidates and causes they cherish, even as Adelaide’s health declined.

Strong-willed and independent, Adelaide often charted her own course. Despite an early life of her family’s social prominence in Raleigh and Washington, D.C., Adelaide eschewed much of the trappings of privilege.

Amongst her many philanthropic causes, Adelaide’s generosity has established the Key Center for Community Citizenship and Service Learning at UNC Asheville, and the Key School at Carolina Day School, which teaches children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. She endowed the Adelaide Worth Daniels Distinguished Professorship in Special Education at Western Carolina University.

Her proudest achievement was founding and funding the Lewis Rathbun Center, an innovative nonprofit that provides lodging and other support services in a home-like environment free-of-charge for caregivers and patients coming to Asheville for medical treatment.

Her many public service commitments included serving on the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina and as a trustee and chairperson of the board of trustees of Western Carolina University. She also served as a member of the board of directors of the UNC-Asheville Foundation and numerous other local and statewide educational institutions.

She received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from UNC Asheville in 2001 and from Western Carolina University in 2003, as well as numerous other honors and awards.

Long active in Democratic Party politics, she opened her home to events for local, regional and national political leaders and aspiring public servants who shared her values.

She is survived by her loving wife, Maggie Smith; three sons Gilbert Russell (Rusty) Key, of Franklin, Jonathan Key and wife, Barbara, of Candler, and David Key and wife, Kathryn, of Franklin; and a daughter, Adelaide Green, also of Franklin. She leaves seven beloved grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Adelaide is also survived by her sister, Dr. Lucy Daniels, of Raleigh, and many nieces and nephews.

In addition to her parents, she is predeceased by two sisters, Elizabeth Squire, of Weaverville, and Mary Cleves Weber, of Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Life is so interesting," Adelaide recently mused. “Everybody's life — I don't care where you come from, rich or poor — is full of tragedy and joy. It's all in how you look at it. If you look at something hard enough, you can find the bad in it. I choose to see life as a wonderful roller coaster. I can look back and die laughing at things that seemed awful then."

A celebration of life will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at First Baptist Church, located at 5 Oak St., Asheville.

In lieu of flowers, donations m ay be made to The Mission Rathbun House, 121 Sherwood Road, Asheville, NC 28803, or to The Key School at Carolina Day School, 1345 Hendersonville Road, Asheville, NC 28803.