News obit: Asheville philanthropist Adelaide Daniels Key has died

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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adelaide_key_2_2014Adelaide Daniels Key, one of Asheville’s most important and influential philanthropists, died Tuesday, according to an unconfirmed report. She was 78.

Key, who lived in an 8,000-square foot home on 40 acres in Beaverdam, was member of the Daniels family that owned the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper. She sold her stock in the company in 1990 and started the Adeliade Worth Daniels Foundation, which focused on causes involving health care, education and, most notably, the Lewis Rathbun Center. It’s a place where people who have family in local hospitals can find a free place to stay.

Key grew up in Raleigh and then lived in Macon County before coming to Asheville in 1987. She ran her own gift shop in Franklin, and was once the owner of The Mountaineer Publishing Co. in Waynesville, which published The Mountaineer newspaper.

More background from Asheville’s Urban News when Key was honored as a “living treasure” in 2013:

Having learned early the importance of philanthropy, she created the Adelaide Worth Daniels Foundation; her generosity has established the Key Center for Community Citizenship and Service Learning at UNC Asheville; the Rathbun Center, an innovative non-profit that provides lodging and other support services in a home-like environment free-of-charge for patients and caregivers coming to Asheville for medical treatment; and the Key School at Carolina Day School, which teaches children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

In addition to being a successful business owner (Pantry Key in Franklin, Mountaineer Publishing Company in Waynesville, and Baggie Goose in Asheville) Adelaide has given of her time, energy, and resources to numerous organizations and received honors from many schools, universities, and other community organizations.

Proud of her four children, eight grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren, and despite facing another battle with cancer, Adelaide and her partner, Maggie Smith, are still busy with community activities, family, and friends.

More on Key from a detailed profile by Susan Reinhardt for the Asheville Citizen-Times in 2005:

Life today for Adelaide is about meeting people, making appointments and listening to the needs and heartbeat of her community and fellow human beings. It’s about staying healthy because, as she’s said, she loves life so much she wants to at least live a century. She walks and swims five days a week, works with her trainer and eats only 1,300 calories a day.
Somehow, she still has the energy to zoom through every day and night as if it were her last.

“I feel great,” she said. “I have all this energy and sleep like a baby. I enjoy what I do.”
People know her soft spots. They ask to meet with her. Some want this funded, others want that. So how does she know when a project could really use her help and money?

“My heart tells me,” she said. “I have a belief in life that you have an obligation if you live in a community to help it become the best community possible. It has nothing to do with money but with time.

From a WNC Woman magazine profile on Key:

“I sort of know who I am”, she begins. “I used to be Jonathan Daniels’ daughter and Josephus Daniels’ granddaughter. Then I was my husband’s wife and my children’s mother. I was divorced almost 20 years ago from a 30 year marriage—I expect my husband thought me the good little Maxwell-housewife. Over the last 20 years I have evolved to the person I am today. (I’d not let her out of the closet often!)”
“Everyone thinks that I am an extrovert. Really I am an introvert, trained to be an extrovert as a child.”

Adelaide Key is a woman who is passionate about children, particularly about abuse to children in any form. “Verbal abuse is in some ways more damaging than physical abuse. It is the insidious nature of verbal abuse that sneaks inside of you and you begin to feel that’s who you really are.”

Among the many projects she has supported are Asheville’s after school program Project STEAM (Success Through Education And Motivation) which has been so successful it is now expanding; the Lewis Rathbun Wellness Center, created as a place for individuals and families to stay while they are receiving care in Buncombe County Hospitals; the endowment of a professorship in Special Education at WCU; the Key Learning Center at Carolina Day; Mountain Area Hospice; and the Community Resource Network. If something major is afoot for the benefit of the community in Western North Carolina, Adelaide Key is likely in the thick of it.

From Blue Ridge Hospital on Key and the Rathbun Center:

Adelaide is a cancer survivor who knows first-hand the struggle that cancer patients and their families face when coming into Asheville for cancer treatments. Having to make a trek every day to receive treatment in Asheville, driving early in the morning and late at night was exhausting.

“I’ve watched so many patients coming back and forth. I just wanted to do something to help alleviate the problem,” Adelaide said in a 1990 interview with The Mountaineer. A hospitality house would give people a nurturing and supportive place to stay, as well as minimizing if not eliminating the loneliness and anxiety of having a loved one in the hospital  The much needed help for these patients and their families began in April 1990. Adelaide began the journey by sending over 1,000 surveys to doctors throughout western North Carolina to see if they felt a need existed for a hospital hospitality house: somewhere patients or their families could stay while receiving treatment in Asheville.

Once the community gave the hospitality house idea full support, Adelaide went full steam ahead with her mission. She brought together a Board of Directors of individuals in the community representing such professions as medicine, business, law and education. Together, they began a capital campaign drive to raise $3 million to buy land, build the house, furnish the house, and have a first-year operating income. An 18-acre tract of land was purchased in the Kenilworth section of Asheville. On September 12, 1994, the Lewis Rathbun Center became a reality, and opened its arms and heart to thousands of people from all areas and all walks of life. Volunteers were assembled and trained and are the “heart” of the House. Adelaide Key had a vision, and was driven to see it through. The “House With A Heart” was truly a labor of love. As of today, thousands of families, patients, and friends have experienced the warmth, love and comfort of the Lewis Rathbun Center. Dr. Lewis Rathbun is a retired Asheville physician. He pioneered the idea that people with serious illnesses can help themselves and each other to live with hope, dignity and joy. The House is named in his honor.

The Adelaide Worth Daniels Key Center at UNC Asheville.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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  1. Larry Stenger September 12, 2014

    As a board member on the Lewis Rathbun Center I can tell you she was very focus, very intelligent and very determined. But she was also capable of listening and helping others. I was honored to have shared a few years of her life’s work that so many folks have benefited from. She will be missed.

  2. Kay August 30, 2014

    The ABC store on Merrimon Ave will miss her contributions most. A Hypocritical woman at best. Destroyed her own family.

  3. Matt August 22, 2014

    I hadn’t heard of her. What an inspiring life.

  4. Lauren August 22, 2014

    A sad day in Asheville and all of Western NC…

  5. JJ August 21, 2014

    Her contributions to the community are enormous and her spirit will live on in the foundation she founded! I’m proud to have students at UNCA participate in service learning through the Key Center.

  6. Carey August 21, 2014

    Very big loss. She was a great one.

  7. Suzanne Hudson August 21, 2014

    Adelaide Key was not only one of the most generous people I’ve ever known, but also the most genuine. She had a deep understanding of the needs in our community, and backed them not only with money but with her heart. She will be terribly missed here on earth, but her beautiful blue eyes surely shine in Heaven. Thank you Adelaide and God Bless!

  8. Martha August 21, 2014

    That is indeed a huge loss.


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