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Today is May 23, 2022

Inseparable: A Mississipi Love Story

By Steven Ward

Inseparable: A Mississipi Love Story

This is a love story about Kay and Nolan Mettetal. South Panola High School sweethearts, the couple got married when he was 19 and she was 16.

She called him “pop.” He called her “momma.”

Nolan worked as a pharmacist for 24 years before retiring at 45. He later became a state senator and, after 16 years, was then elected to Mississippi’s House of Representatives.

The thing about Nolan and Kay — affectionately called “Ms. Kay” by almost everyone who knew them — is that they were always together. Always.

When Nolan was in Jackson for a legislative session, Ms. Kay was there.

She would answer his phones, help with paperwork, run errands, and assist constituents.

When a lawmaker or lobbyist asked Nolan to go to dinner, he only agreed to do it if Ms. Kay could go along.

“He would tell people, ‘I will go to dinner with you, but my wife has to come. She’s a part of me,’” Ms. Kay, 73, said recently at the couple’s longtime home in Sardis.

The Mettetals built apartments and rental houses at one point in their lives. If Nolan was on the roof with a hammer, Ms. Kay was up top with him.

“We did everything together,” Ms. Kay said.

Nolan, 75, passed away on Dec. 28, 2020, after battling COVID-19. The couple were just three months away from their 56th wedding anniversary.

“He was my everything,” Ms. Kay said.

Their love story was something to witness.

“I never saw them not together,” said former Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant.

“It’s like they were one. It was remarkable and unique.”

Bryant said it was extremely rare to see a spouse at legislative sessions.

“In some ways, Ms. Kay was the first lady of the Legislature. She helped everyone there, not just Nolan,” Bryant said.

Marlin Williams, manager of member services at North East Mississippi Electric Power Association, was a Mettetal family friend.

“There is so much to share about their life in public service but of even more importance — I always admired the way they were a team and power couple,” Williams said.

“When I think of Mr. Nolan serving in the Mississippi Legislature — most of my memories have Ms. Kay right by his side. She helped him, encouraged him, and loved him. It was non-stop, and it was genuine. They were rarely without the other one by their side. I can still see his smile when she walked into the room.”

February was one of Nolan’s favorite times of year.

“He loved Valentine’s Day. When we worked at the pharmacy, he loved watching the men come in scrambling to buy things for their wives and girlfriends — cards, boxes of candy,” Ms. Kay said.

Nolan loved red roses and always made sure Ms. Kay had red roses on Valentine’s Day and beyond. Valentine’s Day also meant dinners with Bryant and his wife Deborah.

“There was a group of couples from one of the committees Nolan was on, and we would go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day at Shapley’s. Back then, Phil Bryant was the lieutenant governor. In those days, Phil used to say, ‘when I’m governor we are going to have these dinners at the mansion,’” Ms. Kay said.

Bryant said he remembers those dinners fondly.

“That’s true. We called that the ‘Sweetheart Dinner.’ And I would make sure each woman got one red rose. We moved it to the mansion and had it there for my eight years. It was so special and one of my favorite memories from that time,” Bryant said.

After Nolan died, Ms. Kay had 56 red roses placed on his casket, she said.

Nolan got sick in December 2020 and went to the hospital two days before Christmas Eve.

Ms. Kay said she didn’t want to leave her husband in the hospital by himself. Nolan didn’t want her to leave either. The doctors told her she couldn’t stay with Nolan because she didn’t have COVID-19.

“The doctor told me I had to go home, but he said to keep testing every day. When I tested positive, I could go to the hospital to be by his side,” Ms. Kay said.

Ms. Kay tested every day in hopes of testing positive for COVID-19 so she could be with Nolan. She did eventually test positive and went to the hospital.

Ms. Kay and the couple’s two adult children were at the hospital and by Nolan’s side just before he passed away.

“He opened his eyes and saw us right before,” Ms. Kay said.

Williams said the couple’s relationship was inspirational.

“When I think of a genuine and inspirational relationship — they will always come to mind. I am forever grateful for the example they were for so many of us,” Williams said.

Ms. Kay misses her constant companion every day. Life is not the same, she said.

She said she misses the couple’s morning walks around Lake Sardis near their home. She misses watching the hummingbirds together at their gazebo.

Nolan loved Ole Miss football and spending time with his five grandchildren.

But those were not his favorite hobbies.

“My son, Cary, said his daddy’s biggest hobby was ‘loving my mother,’” Ms. Kay said.

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