On Sunday, October 11, 2020, Kay Tortorice passed away peacefully at the age of 79. Wife, mother, friend, cook, hostess, advocate, teacher, librarian, she brought joy to so many people. She will be missed.
Kay was born June 19, 1941 in Tomah, Wisconsin and grew up on her family's farm outside of Montello, Wisconsin. As the oldest of seven children, she took on many responsibilities at an early age. She raised her six younger siblings while her parents worked the farm. She did all the farm girl chores, but particularly disliked gathering eggs from the chickens - who would peck at her constantly. So Kay negotiated a deal with her parents - she would do all the cooking for the entire family in return for no more egg gathering.
She loved big farm animals and as a 4-H member, she walked away from every County Fair with many blue ribbons for her prize sheep and beef steers. Her father didn't want his industrious daughter to go to college, but Kay had other plans. She saved the money she had received from selling her prize livestock and used that to pay for her college education. She majored in Home Economics, when that was one of the few professions available to women, and turned it into her first career in food and industrial arts. She worked as a restaurant manager and then as the test kitchen manager for FoodMaker Corporation, owner of Jack-in-the-Box, among others. You can see where Kay developed her lifelong passion for food, cooking and entertaining.
In the 1970's, she decided to pursue another career as a teacher and librarian, getting her credential at San Diego State University in 1978. She loved being a librarian, but always thought of herself as a teacher first.
Kay met the love of her life that following year. Ignoring two pieces of motherly advice ("Never go out with a sailor or a man you meet in a bar."), Kay met a tall, handsome sailor in a bar, Tony Tortorice. They were married the following May and enjoyed a wonderful, full life together. Sorry, Mom.
In 1983, Tony and Kay moved to Long Beach and bought a home in Carroll Park. They immediately got involved in their community, making friends, volunteering and entertaining. Kay and Tony loved to entertain and their parties were legendary. Lots of friends, lots of fabulous food, great wines, a bocce ball game or two and lots of laughter. Kay made you feel welcome and relaxed in her home. One of her favorites was their lively "Spit and Argue" parties during every election year.
Kay was committed to giving back to her community and started working for the advocacy organization Long Beach Area Citizens Involved ("LBACHI"). During elections, she would walk the neighborhood knocking on doors to tell neighbors about her favorite candidate. She supported Alan Lowenthal for City Council - his first run for political office in Long Beach!
Kay loved to garden and was the first in Carroll Park to design and install a xeriscaped lawn. She always had fresh flowers, fresh vegetables and fresh herbs from her garden. In her last years, she kept the gardener busy, telling him exactly how she wanted her backyard maintained.
Kay was a fabulous conversationalist who would chat up anyone. On a trip with Tony to Washington D.C. in 2000, she met a tall gentleman as she was walking
in the tunnel between the House and Senate buildings. They had a nice chat about his blackberry and the challenge of technology. Later that day, as she sat in the gallery watching the debate on the Senate floor, she realized that tall gentleman was Joe Biden!
Kay was also an accomplished cook and kept 30 years of Gourmet magazine in her extensive cookbook collection. Kay's reputation preceded her. Russ Parsons, former Food Editor for the LA Times, said "I always loved cooking for Kay, but I was always a little nervous about it, too. She was such a good cook, and she pulled no punches. Her observations were always spot-on. And if she praised a dish, it really meant something." Every year on their anniversary, Tony and Kay would chose a five course meal from the pages of Gourmet, and replicate it exactly. Last May, they purposely cooked the same meal that they had prepared on their first anniversary.
But the love of Kay's professional life was her time as Librarian for Long Beach Polytechnic High School, which she ran with a firm hand and strict rules. She was particularly proud of teaching the football players, all of whom towered over her. In retirement, Kay continued to support the things she loved. An active Board member of the Long Beach Public Library Foundation, she and Tony generously donated wines and parties to every fundraising auction. She continued to cook elegant dinners for Tony's clients, and they traveled extensively to Europe and the Southwest, Kay always in search of the perfect Hatch chile.
Kay was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. With the constant and supportive care of her husband Tony and Dr. James Waisman at City of Hope, she fought the cancer successfully until this year. Her rich social life and circle of devoted friends kept her going, when it would have been easy to give up. Despite her challenges, she was always ready for a good party, a good laugh and a good Meal.
Kay is survived by her husband of forty years, Tony Tortorice, by her son and daughter-in-law, Joe and Kerri Dunne, and by her granddaughter, Kayla.
A service to honor Kay will be held for the immediate family on Friday, October 23 at 3 pm at McKenzie Mortuary. However, the service will be available as a Zoom session which anyone can attend. Please email [email protected]
to receive the link.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made in Kay's memory to the Long Beach Poly High School Library. Please send a check made out to LB Poly HS Library and send it to Long Beach Poly High School, Attention Lynne Amyx, Banker, 1600 Atlantic Avenue, Long Beach, CA 90813
Published by Gazette Newspapers from Oct. 22 to Oct. 29, 2020.