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--Rauth-Farley's mother, Betty Rauth
When Kay Rauth-Farley was about 14, her younger sister, Jeanne, hurt an arm horsing around in their front yard.
Betty Rauth looked at the arm briefly, then sent Jeanne off to bed. That night, Jeanne slept fitfully. In the morning, her parents saw something that became the stuff of family legend.
"Kay had gotten two rulers and some dish towels and wrapped up Jeanne's arm in a kind of splint," Betty Rauth recalls. "I guess it was the born doctor in her coming out."
The Rauths took Jeanne to the family doctor that day. Indeed, her arm was broken.
John Rauth was a World War II hero who owned a construction company in rustic St. Joseph, Missouri. Betty Rauth was a homemaker who took her job seriously.
"I guess you could say we are traditionalists," says Betty Rauth, now in her 70s. "We had family meals together every night, and the person who finished first couldn't leave until everyone was done. We went to church together--we're pretty devout Catholics. You could say we were very strict with the kids."
Even as a youngster, the Rauths say, Kay stood out for one trait.
"She always was a very determined little lady," her mother says. "I mean, very determined. When she set out to do something, she did it."
Musically inclined, Kay learned to play the accordion before she was 10. In high school, she sang in the church chorus and with a group of other teenage girls called The Daisies.
She also developed a work ethic.
"We told them all we'd send them to college," her father says, "but they had to work at school and in the summers. To us, there was a fair deal."
Kay's jobs during high school and college ran the gamut:
"Before I was 16, I spent one summer detasseling corn, you know, so the corn wouldn't have sex with each other, wouldn't pollinate. It was hot and sweaty work, but with this ice-cold irrigation water coming up on our legs."
Rauth-Farley was a maid at a hotel, a factory worker, a cashier, and a surgical tech, among other jobs. All the while, she remained fixated on becoming a doctor, even after she passed out in high school while watching a gory auto-safety film.
She and her sister Patty were close in age and were inseparable. Patty followed Kay to Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, about 150 miles from St. Joseph. (Patty Hayes is a pharmacist in St. Joseph.)
Even as an undergraduate, say those who know her best, Rauth-Farley was intense, driven and focused.
"She knew her whole life what she wanted to do--she's one of those," says her husband, Mark. "She has never understood the concept of unmotivation, if that's a word."
Mark Farley also grew up in St. Joseph. But he's about three years older than Kay, and the two didn't click romantically until after she went off to college, and he returned from a tour in Vietnam.
Rauth-Farley graduated from Creighton University in 1973, with a bachelor's degree in biology. Thrilled that her dream of becoming a doctor was getting closer, she applied to the university's medical school. She didn't get accepted, which devastated her.
"To this day, Kay lives with a fear of failure more than most," Mark Farley says. "She wants everything right and perfect in her life, again more than most. But she won't quit when things go against her, not hardly."
Instead, she entered Creighton's graduate program, and earned a master's degree in biology in 1975. She reapplied to the university's medical school, and this time was admitted.
By now, she and Mark were a serious item, and he asked her to marry him the night before medical school started.
"There were 100 men and 10 women at the school," Rauth-Farley recalls, "but the cool guys were already taken anyway, and the single guys were nerds."
The couple married in 1975. Rauth-Farley was 25.
She graduated four years later, then completed a three-year medical residency program at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
"A lot of my ability to get through it all is due to Mark," she says. "He'd have our two babies by himself for days on end when I was on call at the hospital. And he was working hard himself. . . . He made things possible for me."
Mark Farley's version: "What she's saying may be true. But Kay would have crawled across the desert on her hands and knees to become a doctor."
After Rauth-Farley finished her pediatric residency in 1982, she and her young family returned to St. Joseph. There, she started a solo practice as a pediatrician. The hometown girl's reputation and practice grew steadily, if not her bank account.
"This was the early 1980s," she says, "and the Midwest was going through the farm crisis. A lot of my patients couldn't pay me, which was fine, except we had our own money problems."
In 1985, Rauth-Farley recruited a young doctor to help carry her growing workload. But that arrangement fell through, and she and Mark stunned their families by announcing they were moving to Houston.