Sue Staton: A salute to an honorable local man

Published 10:25 am Thursday, March 21, 2019

I guess it was my sophomore year at the old Clark County High School on Lexington Avenue when I first met Paul Hay.

I am sure our paths crossed many times during our freshman year of school as we changed classes. I feel pretty sure we probably walked right past each other in the hallways — neither of us paying any attention to the other one.

It would not be until my senior year of high school, at the then three-year-old George Rogers Clark High School, that I got to know the guy who happened to be in my sixth-period biology class.

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My best friend at the time, Ruth Whitaker, and I had discussed him on the phone the summer after my freshman year. She told me confidentially she thought he was cute. I told her I thought I knew who he was but had never had a class with him.

When Mr. Dykes, our biology teacher, called his name at the beginning of my senior year, I turned to see where he sat and paid attention.

I gave Ruth a call that night and told her I did think he was very nice looking. I do not remember much about him that year other than he burst out laughing from a joke evidently his deskmate, Paul King, had told him.

Little did I know how much my life would intertwine with three of the sophomore boys in my class that year.

When I decided to begin taking pictures with my classmates about 15 years ago, my first was with Paul Hay, Gardner Wagers and Paul King one Christmas at our home.

Since then, as I would meet a person I graduated with, I got a picture with them and put the picture in an album.

Paul never forgot the town he grew up in or being from the north end of town.

He spoke with pride of being from there and his love of the little Fannie Bush Elementary School where he went his first eight years of school.

Back when we went to grade school, the smaller schools and the county schools did not have the esteem the city schools seemed to have. There were cliques even back in the early and late 1960s.

Paul went to Eastern Kentucky College (not yet a university), married a beautiful girl named Esther Rye and they had a precious little girl they named Rachel Claire.

While at Eastern, Paul was a member of the ROTC department. Paul was recruited in the Army where he became a helicopter pilot. He spent 24 years in the Army where he saw the world. His tours included Vietnam, Alaska and Europe.

I am not sure where he spent his time in Europe, but I have heard him and Esther speak of Germany several times in conversations.

I do know this much, his love for our country and his patriotism for it never waned.

I am sure even Miss Fannie Bush would have been surprised to have learned all Paul accomplished in his lifetime. To think he would someday be working in the Pentagon would have really had her awestruck I can imagine.

Paul and my husband Eric were on the football team at GRC when Eric was a freshman and Paul was a junior. That was when they first became friends. Later they became golfing buddies.

Paul gave Eric a job, as health and safety director at the American Red Cross, where Paul was the chief executive officer. Through this job, our friendship with Paul and Esther grew.

Eric spoke highly of Paul and was heartbroken as I was at the word of his death.

Though Paul left his hometown of Winchester many years ago into the unknown world, much of what he had learned as a Boy Scout in his small hometown would become forever in his mind and would help him throughout his life.

He earned his Eagle Scout rank and was a member of the Order of the Arrow while in Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts returned to honor him at his funeral. I could not help but get a tear in my eye as the hearse turned the corner of Lexington Avenue and I remarked to my husband, “He left his hometown for the last time.”

A police escort took Paul through Clark and Fayette counties and a truck that bore the American flag gave all who witnessed Paul’s funeral procession as one of someone special being honored.

It was so touching to see those who saluted as he rode by. I could not help but smile each time I saw that.

He was given full military honors at his funeral as a caisson carried him down the hill for the final time. The horse without its soldier, the gun salute and taps played as one last attempt to honor Paul Hay was so beautiful and meaningful as Paul was laid to rest at Camp Nelson National Cemetery.

I am sure he felt right at home with the many brave men and women who fought and respected our wonderful country.

These people knew what the red, white and blue of the American flag stood for more than anyone else did. I could not help but thank each one of them as he finally got the honor he so deserved for his service even if it took until his death.

Though my dear sweet friend Ruth died from cancer at the age of 46, maybe she and Paul can reminisce about high school days and what all each other accomplished after high school. She married Bob Turley, became an elementary school teacher and had two beautiful daughters. A plaque is enshrined in the Conkwright school where the teachers ate their lunch.

She will be shocked to learn all Paul accomplished in life, however, I think she knows.

Paul Hay, you will never be forgotten and Eric always told him to, “Tell Gloria Sue I love her.” I think you knew we loved you too.

We salute you Lt. Col. Paul Hay. Rest in peace.

Sue Staton is a Clark County native who grew up in the Kiddville area. She is a wife, mother and grandmother who is active in her church, First United Methodist Church, and her homemakers group, Towne and Country Homemakers.