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The Ramparts Literary Society Bids Farewell to Its Founder

The Ramparts Literary Society is a group of local book worms and friends who gather the last Monday of each month for good company and more.

Dona Kaye Smith Kenly November 1, 1967 ̶ February 5, 2020. (Photo: Chris Kenly)

Alexandria, VA – The Ramparts Literary Society is a group of local book worms and friends who gather the last Monday of each month to enjoy the ever-popular half-priced burger night, some good reads, and the occasional draft beer or glass of wine. Ramparts Tavern and Grill, at 1700 Fern Street, Alexandria, has long been a gracious host for this invitation-only book club, save one February four years ago when the selected read was The Godfather so the RLS met across the street at Cafe Pizzaolo.

At their January 27 gathering, all current members were present, an extraordinary occurrence given work and travel demands. It was the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. The reading selection before the holiday break had been The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Some members had visited the camp themselves or had relatives who’d been interned, providing a personal perspective on the good-natured yet frequently opinionated discussion.

Now the January gathering of the Ramparts Literary Society is recalled all the more poignantly due to the sudden death, after a brief illness, of Dona Kenly, founder and friend to all in the club. Dona passed away February 5, with husband Chris holding her hand until her final moments.

A solitary bar stool was reserved for Dona at her celebration of life at Ramparts. In the background is friend and longtime Ramparts waiter Tim Reilly, with veteran barkeep and friend Buster Sweat, who adorned the dining room with dozens of red roses. (Photo: Kelly Maconomy)

Dona was a voracious reader. She carried with her countless tablet downloads, laundry lists of reading to-dos, discussion notes on shopping receipts, even a Little Free Library paperback find or library loan tucked into her pocketbook.

Between literary society gatherings Dona was often found sitting with Chris at Ramparts, seemingly deep into a Kindle download, foregoing the book club read for the moment. But a good joke or juicy bit of gossip would always catch her notice and fashion a knowing smile as she peered over her red-framed specs, her grin traveling down the bar from one set of eyes to the next.

Dona Kaye Smith Kenly was born November 1, 1967. She was the loving daughter of Dennis and Elizabeth Smith and surviving daughter of Katie Anna Prohaska of Enid, Oklahoma. Dona and Chris were married in December 1996, a fitting time of year because Dona was all about everything red, from 50 shades of red-headed-ness to knowing the perfect shade of lip rouge to go with anything from comfy sweats and sneaks and a velvet scrunchie to Kate Spade couture and dress pumps.

Chris Kenly served in the Army in the Middle East, a member of an Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit, as depicted in the 2008 film The Hurt Locker. During his deployments, Dona settled into the role of Army wife at Fort Dix with her usual wholehearted enthusiasm and purpose by organizing support and spousal advocacy groups.

Dona, to no one’s surprise, made her career in the publishing field. After graduating from Oklahoma State, she entered textbook publishing, working with MacMillan, Addison-Wesley, Pearson, International Baccalaureate, and Contemporary Solutions publishing houses. Her career took her across the globe, from India, Kuwait, and Singapore to her favorite destination, The Hague.

Dona was an intrepid traveler, always organized. Even as her final journey came all too soon into view, she outlined specific plans for her farewell. She eschewed traditional funerals, preferring to plan her own party even if she could not attend. Friends, family, colleagues, neighbors, and the entire Literary Society, past and present, gathered Thursday, February 13, at Ramparts in a celebration of her life.

Dona loved all things red most of all, except for her beloved black and tan terrier Sam! (Photo: Chris Kenly)

Much like many nights, Ramparts was packed. A table displayed Dona’s beloved books: A Tale of Two Cities, Rebecca, and books Dona asked to be donated in her memory for the Alexandria Public Library.

The dining room was festive with red roses and white and yellow daisies. A single memorial stool was placed at the bar in solitary tribute to a fallen friend. A blank crossword puzzle and pen (never pencil) spread out next to a favorite photo propped with her red leather Kindle case, adorned by a single red rose brushing against a flute bubbling with the effervescent split of the Veuve Clicquot, waiting for Dona’s return. Her faux fur leopard coat held her place.

Dona is survived by her beloved husband Chris Kenly, her mother Elizabeth Smith, brothers Raymond Smith of Enid and Kenneth Smith of Colorado Springs, Colorado, mother and father in-law Rick and Martha Kenly, sister-in-law Jennifer Kenly, and many friends, fans, colleagues, and neighbors. In lieu of flowers, Chris has asked friends to consider a donation to King Street Cats.

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Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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