COLUMBIA — As a long-time chaplain at the Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital, Jay Ketchie spent his life serving thousands of veterans as their lives came to an end.
"He was so passionate about treating people as human beings," his co-worker and friend Stephen Gaither said. "They weren't stereotypes or diseases to him."
On Saturday, his friends and family were able to give him the same loving care that he had given so many others.
Jay Lester Ketchie of Columbia died Saturday, Sept. 28. He was 78.
The Rev. Ketchie was born on Oct. 24, 1934 in Statesville, N.C., to Lester and Selma (Gilleland) Ketchie. He graduated with a bachelor's degree from Wake Forest College, now known as Wake Forest University, in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 1957 and earned his master's in divinity from Union Theological Seminary in 1962.
He served in the Navy Reserve and the U.S. Air Force as a chaplain before moving to Columbia in 1972 to become the first chaplain of the newly opened Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans' Hospital.
On Aug. 12, 1979, the Rev. Ketchie married Donna Jo Martin on top of a mountain in Utah. He worked at the VA hospital for 22 years before retiring in 1994.
During that time, he also served as a Presbyterian minister and as an instructor at Columbia College. There, he taught a class about end-of-life issues. He also studied under Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who wrote the seminal book on the five stages of grief, "On Death and Dying."
His daughter, Karen Cade, said her father was great at what he did and that he was able to assist many people during their times of need.
"He touched a lot of people's lives as they went through grief and pain," Cade said. "He eased them when they were struggling with grief and death."
Gaither, a public affairs officer at the VA hospital, said that the Rev. Ketchie was committed to getting veterans the care they needed, whether it was physical or spiritual, and his primary duty was providing solace for terminally ill veterans.
"He was before his time in how he cared for those guys," Gaither said. "He was there to address their needs, provide comfort to them and their families and guidance when they needed it most. He was quite effective in that role."
Outside of work, the Rev. Ketchie was an avid outdoorsman. He especially liked the mountains and going fishing with friends, though he wasn't able to get out as much near the end of his life. He was the type of man who loved birds so much he would chase squirrels away from his bird feeder.
He lived on six acres of land and enjoyed spending time with the deer and other wildlife that shared his property. Cade said her father passed his love of nature down to his children and grandchildren.
During retirement, the Rev. Ketchie and some of his friends began to meet regularly for breakfast at Hy-Vee just to share stories and talk about life. They called themselves "The ROMEOs," short for "the really old men eating out," and met Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Gaither described the Rev. Ketchie as a person who knew right from wrong, but would share that with you in a kind and nonthreatening way. He also had a great sense of humor and was extremely dedicated to his family.
The Rev. Ketchie is survived by his wife, Jo Ketchie; a brother, Michael Ketchie, and his wife, Sandra, of Andersonville, S.C.; three sons, Steve Ketchie of Harrisburg and Chris Ketchie and his wife, Tomoko, of Long Island City, N.Y., and Gregg Ketchie of Columbia; a daughter, Karen Cade and her husband, Herb, of Columbia; two stepsons, Scott Walker of Kansas City and Brett Walker and his wife, Tammy, of Columbia; eight grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held from 9:30 to 11 a.m. on Friday, Oct. 4 at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 West. Services will follow at the funeral home.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Central Missouri Humane Society, 616 Big Bear Blvd., Columbia, MO 65202, and Columbia Second Chance, P.O. Box 10186, Columbia, MO 65205.
Condolences can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.