Mary Caroline Shelton Kays, 98, of Wilmington, North Carolina, formerly of Charleston, South Carolina, passed away peacefully at her home surrounded by her family on Sunday, Aug. 26, 2018.

Services are being planed at a later date and will be held in Charleston, South Carolina.

She is preceded in death by her parents, Theodore Thomas (T.T.) and Hazel Caroline Shelton and sister Mildred Louise as well her best friend of more than 75 years, Maxine Rentz. She was also the treasured step-daughter of Mary Hider Shelton.

Mary was born in Ottawa, Kansas, the daughter of farmers who raised cattle and mined oil wells. She prided herself on riding her faithful horse Prince to school where she joined community children in a one-room schoolhouse for her entire 12 years of secondary education. Mary loved sharing stories of Prince and his devotion to her until her final days with friends and family. Following high school graduation, she became a beauty school operator and moved from Ottawa to live in Kansas City where she met and married the love of her life, Benjamin Kays. While in Kansas City, she and Ben enjoyed community dances where they honed their dancing skills during the Big Band and Swing Era before starting their family.

Mary was the loving wife of Benjamin Kays for 78 years and the proud mother of two sons, Dr. B. Thomas Kays and wife Claudia of Charleston, South Carolina, and Dr. Charles R. Kays and wife Carol of Wilmington, North Carolina, and the devoted grandmother to Trinette James and husband Brian, Charles Kays and wife Marlena, Grace and Lilly Kays and Tadd McKellar. Mary was also a dedicated great-grandmother to Brylen and Jordyn James, Christian, Landon and Benjamin Kays and TJ McKellar.

Following the birth of their two sons, Mary and Ben called a variety of places home. Wherever they moved, Mary poured her heart into to the community — warmly welcoming new neighbors, hosting bridge clubs, and volunteering in local hospitals. She passionately supported her boys as they grew, volunteering with Boy Scouts and cheering them on in sports, where she earned quite a reputation for energetically displaying her pride in their athletic prowess. An athlete herself, Mary competed in the Senior Olympics and won a ribbon for swimming in 1985 and continued her athleticism in swim aerobics until she was 94. She loved animals, and cared for creatures large and small her whole life.

This beautiful turn-of-the-century woman made the world brighter and better. Her extraordinary devotion to family was truly larger than life. She was always sure to deliver sage advice, a great story, a recipe from the Depression Era and proven marital wisdom. Her laugh was contagious, her smile warm and loving and her joy could light a room. She will be missed by all who knew her.

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