Fort Mill Times

Kitty Updike, one of Tega Cay’s founders, dies at 86

Kitty Updike in a 1982 photo celebrating the incorporation of Tega Cay as a city.
Kitty Updike in a 1982 photo celebrating the incorporation of Tega Cay as a city. Courtesy City of Tega Cay

Before Tega Cay became a city, there were people like Kitty Updike, who cared enough about her community to help raise its profile.

Updike – remembered for her vision, kindness and ability to build bridges between communities – died Friday. She was 86.

The Pennsylvania native moved to Tega Cay with her husband, Bruce Updike, in 1979. The couple would be integral in numerous civic initiatives, having honors and events named after them through decades of public service. Updike witnessed the birth of Tega Cay as a city and served on the City Council from 1982 to 1990.

“Kitty was a pioneer in the beginning, with many others,” Tega Cay Mayor George Sheppard said Monday. “She was more than willing to share her time and advice with anyone who cared to ask.”

She twice won the city’s Citizen of The Year honor. The local chamber of commerce confers a volunteer of the year award named for Kitty and Bruce Updike. Bruce Updike died in 2001.

Sheppard didn’t arrive for his council or mayoral terms until well after Updike served, but he still leaned on information she offered. Updike often spoke fondly of the city’s early years, from what issues drew packed city meetings to how she was chosen to decorate the first City Hall, a former convenience store.

“She was a wealth of information for me, and she was a great support system for me,” Sheppard said. “Always ready to lend an ear, and that was invaluable to me.”

Murray White served on the York County Council during the time Updike was on the City Council. The pair organized regular meetings among local elected officials to foster discussion of local issues from a broader perspective.

“At that time, there was kind of a feeling that Tega Cay, a lot of people were kind of inward thinking and they were not concerned with what was going on outside of Tega Cay,” White said. “There was some animosity between Fort Mill and Tega Cay.”

Updike was a force for bringing together city, town and county interests for a seat at the same table.

“Kitty and I did a lot of work to try to overcome that,” White said. “We tried to foster a sense that we were in this together, and Kitty played a key role in getting that done.”

White and Updike also were founding members of the Nation Ford Land Trust, which her son Jeff later ran. Updike understood the area had growth potential well ahead of the housing increases of recent years. Since it began in 1989, the land trust has preserved more than 10,000 acres in York County.

Jeff Updike saw both the “worker-bee type” civic side and personal side of his mother – sometimes all at once. A favorite story about his parents involved the year Bruce called asking what was for dinner, with Kitty telling him to order a pizza, since she and White were canvassing Tega Cay ahead of White’s County Council election.

Never mind that it was the Updikes’ anniversary.

“Mom took him door-to-door in Tega Cay for him to campaign,” Jeff Updike said. “She thought it was important enough.”

Updike’s sons and daughters recall a woman with a wild laugh, who threw big theme parties and made others feel welcome regardless of their status. A reliable woman unafraid to lead with conviction and foresight.

Like the time she founded a local chamber of commerce more than a decade before the arrival of Walmart and surrounding commercial development showed the need for one.

“We had no commercial interest in Tega Cay other than the marina,” Jeff Updike said.

Friends and fellow public servants who knew Updike recall a woman who was easy to like, who moved the area forward by welcoming others into the conversation. An upbeat woman who was hard not to like.

“She had a really unique personality,” White said. “She was an individual who was very easy to like. It boils down, she was a lady that had a tremendous amount of class.”

And, in Tega Cay, a woman difficult to leave out of the city’s story.

“She was critical in Tega Cay becoming the city it is today,” Sheppard said.

Service set for April 12

A memorial service for Kitty Updike is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at Palmetto Funeral Home in Tega Cay.