Tributes paid to Elisabeth ‘Lis’ Kay

Date published: 17 July 2023

Tributes have been paid to Elisabeth ‘Lis’ Kay, who passed away peacefully at home on 16 June, aged 74.



Described by many who knew her as “kind and cheerful” who “did so much for charity and the community,” Lis was born to Tom and Hilda Riley at Birch Hill Hospital on 8 September 1948, just two months after the birth of the NHS.

She was the fourth and final child in the family after older siblings Tim, Margaret, and Peter. In Lis’ own words: “My, the wellies were well-worn by the time they got to me!”

Lis shared her birth year with the launch of the board game Scrabble and the composer Andrew Lloyd Webber. Both became firm favourites over the years.

She grew up at Willow Bank and told tales of geese, golf courses, and giggling at the dining table from these happy years.

Lis went to primary school in Norden. Then at age 10, she went off to Manchester High School for Girls where she made some lifelong friends and was very good at never being caught out misbehaving. Lis described the experience as “a culture shock.”


Lis, aged 14 in 1963
Lis, aged 14 in 1963


She wanted to work in the family business of TW Riley, where her father was a textile engineer, making finishing machinery for fabrics, from dusters to PVC dresses.

Lis chose to do a business degree with languages at Birmingham University, later changing to political science. She graduated with a 2:1, a dislike of economics, some more lifelong friends, fluent French, and a love of studying languages which would continue throughout her life.

She even started learning Italian in 2008 and studied this through to early 2023.

At the same time as going to university, Lis also joined the Rochdale Young Conservatives to build up a local group of friends. The YCs gave her a brilliant social life, memorable holidays, and an instruction in the art of committees. Lis herself said: “My friends were spread far and wide round Manchester but not locally, so at 18, off I went to Lord Street on a Friday night.

“Brilliant social life and instruction in the art of committees which has stood me in good stead.”

Most importantly, the Young Conservatives was also where she met John Kay, who went from friend to boyfriend, to husband of 47 years.

John and Lis married on 31 July 1976. After they married, Lis moved into Bent House. Here, they brought up two daughters (Cathryn and Jenny), three dogs, nine cats, and many tens of chickens.


John Kay and Lis Kay
John and Lis Kay


Lis and her daughters, Cathryn and Jenny
Lis and her daughters, Cathryn and Jenny


Lis was an excellent cook. She sewed, knitted, baked, grew fruit, and veg, collected elephants and netsuke, laughed a lot, and created a lovely home for her family.

Professionally, Lis did fulfil her early ambition of joining the family business. However, after having her two daughters, she chose not to return. Instead, she joined John at Molesworth’s, taking on various finance responsibilities including the office payroll.

Lis’ love of languages continued and in the 1990s she started to host young people from France and Spain over in the summer for different language and football courses. This inspired her to study for a qualification in Teaching English to Students of Other Languages. She then got a job with Hopwood Hall and spent over two years going round primary schools and teaching the mums while the children were in class.

Lis and John travelled extensively, with holidays as far afield as China and Japan. But the repeated international favourite was Italy with many a happy holiday spent in the Borgo di Colleoili in Tuscany.

Within the UK, Filey in North Yorkshire was a second home and another source of friends and fun.

Lis’ unofficial career and a source of great personal fulfilment was the time she spent as a committee member and organiser supreme. She joined Inner Wheel (where her mum was also a member) in 1984.

Of the experience, Lis said: “My mum was a member and I sat shyly and quietly with her. The club had over 50 members, some very strident, and I was happy to be a foot soldier.”

She was chair of the PTA in all the schools attended by her daughters – “Much to my children’s mortification!” She joined the Littleborough NSPCC committee in 1989 and raised a lot of money for the charity, including at the popular Ascot at Nutters events.

Writing some four or five years ago, Lis said: “This and Inner Wheel have honed my organising skills and been very fulfilled.

“I am still enjoying my Inner Wheel and its evolution over all these years.”


Lis Kay
Lis Kay


In 2014 Lis was part of the team which established the Littleborough U3A, hosting the Scrabble group and going to Mah-jong and Italian conversation sessions.

Daughter Cathryn said: “Friends and having a busy social life were very important to Lis. You could often find her lunching with ‘Les girls,’ giggling over a shared bottle of wine with her book club, visiting the Curtain Theatre with John, or hosting a U3A Scrabble gathering. Many of these friends have sent kind messages with comments on her smile and infectious laugh.

“The hobbies, committees, socialising, love, and laughter continued right through to the end.

“Mum, thank you for teaching me to live life to the full, to explore the world, to make friends in all sorts of places and to have a jolly good laugh throughout. You and your dirty laugh will be much missed.”

Anita Sharma, president of Inner Wheel, has also paid tribute to Lis, saying: “Too well-loved to ever be forgotten, Lis will be remembered as Loving, Inspiring and Supportive.

“The first thing I noticed about Lis was her big smile. It didn’t take long to discover that her smile matched her personality of support, strength, and selflessness.

“Lis was skilled, sociable, selfless, sharp-witted and stimulating.

“It was because of her that I joined Inner Wheel, and it's her personality that I would like to remember. Her surprising jokes with the splendour always brought sparkles to the gathering.

“Lis was the person who filled me with enthusiasm and a burning desire to get to work on my chosen endometriosis charity.

“I must have asked thousands of questions about Inner Wheel's charter night which she organised but she answered all the time with swiftness, and it was a great success.

“I always knew where Lis was sitting as could hear her loud contagious laugh. And this is the 'little thing that makes a big difference'.”

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