As I say good-bye to my dear friend and hello to a future filled with her loving memories, I’d like to share what I wrote for her celebration of life. And since she was such a big part of Model Behaviors, I thought there was no better place to share it.
When I first started to tell people about Kelly’s passing, I’d say “Kelly the makeup artist” so they’d know whom I was talking about. She wouldn’t have cared. Kelly wasn’t one to make a big deal out of things. But she was more than just a makeup artist. She was family. Kelly saw us grow up. And she was growing up, too. Actually, we were all growing up together, and with all that growing up, I wish I could tell you how we first met. I guess, in fashion, it’s all about pretending—pretending we belong, pretending we know what the client wants, pretending we can get the job done. But, there was no pretending in Kelly’s chair.
It was simple. It was effortless. And it was always one hundred percent real. What I do remember is this, and let me tell you, coming from an old model, this is the highest compliment to a makeup artist’s talent—I never had to redo Kelly’s makeup. I could literally leave Kelly’s chair and walk straight onto the runway or set. She was the best, and over time, I started to claim my territory. Kelly was mine, and well, Carlotta’s too. And occasionally, a naïve young model would slip through the cracks and sit in Kelly’s chair. My old age and slow reflexes even allowed some to stay—Kodi, Mimi, and Anna.
But besides Kelly being unbelievably talented—that was a given—she was also hilarious! Her impersonations kept us all snickering, especially of LB. That déjà vu scenario went a little like this: First, I’d sit in Kelly’s chair and hear, “Ugh LB!” and then, I’d finish up in LB’s chair and hear, “That Kelly!” The Odd Couple, Laurel and Hardie, and LB & Kelly, they were a comedy duo…reality TV before reality TV.
So besides Kelly being talented and hilarious, she was also loyal. What was said in Kelly’s chair stayed in Kelly’s chair. You’d always be greeted with a warm, cozy Kelly hug and a giggle. Then you could plop down and be real. Chair-time for Kelly and I always turned into whispered therapy sessions. Eventually, I didn’t even care about the hair and makeup. I just wanted to be around Kelly. She made me feel better, no matter how crappy I felt, and she made me look better…no matter how crappy I looked.
Now that I say these things aloud, it sounds like a one-way street, right? But I swear Kelly enjoyed it. I know this because I started asking Kelly to do charity projects for me—that’s code word for “free.” Kelly, along with some other talented sucker friends of ours, Simon, Wade, David, Kathryn, Joanna, and Drew, never said no.
Then, there were the occasional functions I had to go to, and Kelly always came over to get me ready. That meant booking Kelly for a solid three hours. One hour so either she or I could run late, one hour so we could gossip and drink Starbucks, forty-five minutes to get ready, and fifteen minutes to clean up the crying. Whether they were tears of laughter, or tears from bad breakups, failed friendships, and loved ones who’d passed away, or tears of joy—engagements, marriage, giving birth to our babies, seeing life through their little eyes—we were always laughing or crying. My husband would often walk in on us with a puzzled expression. Mascara would be running down my face, and my cheeks would be blotchy from patting them dry. “We’re okay,” we assured him, sitting up straight and getting our game-faces on. Then, with two swipes from her magic brush, some J-Lo bronzer, and a touch of backcombing, voila—Victoria Secret (Kelly’s go-to look)—and I was ready to go.
I loved Kelly with all of my heart and I couldn’t imagine celebrating any occasion without her, whether it was Darlington’s first photo shoot (when Darlington peed through the burlap Dreamcatcher onto Kelly, Simon, and Ann); the making of our Christmas cards (where Kelly can be heard in the background of our home videos, teasing Dan); or our amazing wedding, Kelly was always there and always made everything special. On the actual day of our wedding, I woke up with puffy eyes and a heavy heart. I walked into the room filled with happy bridesmaids and my loud family, and made a beeline for Kelly. She never gave anyone a chance to even see me like that. She immediately whisked me off into the bathroom. Kelly had a gift of always knowing what was on my mind. I felt guilty for crying on my wedding day, but I missed my sister so much and her absence hit me hard. Kelly wrapped her loving arms around me, and just like a big sister said, “I’m so proud of you!” I collapsed in her arms, and she went on to say that my happiness gave her happiness and that I deserved to be happy. That was Kelly!
After our friend Wade’s passing a few months ago, Kelly, Simon, and I were talking. So many wonderful things were happening to honor Wade, and I just remember Kelly saying that she wished he could’ve been here to see it all and to see how much people loved him.
Little did I know, that memory would hit me like a ton of bricks, when just a couple months later, I would ask God, “Why Kelly?” When she was finally brought to hospice, the doctor told us that she would most likely slip into a coma in the next day or two and maybe be like that for a week or two. “Why would God make her suffer?” I wondered. Then, I remembered our conversation. Hordes of flowers, cards, letters, and friends started spilling into the little Kindred Hospice in Fort Worth. Eventually, they stopped asking whom people were visiting. There was standing-room-only for Kelly’s concert. And just like Kelly, she did things her way and always with a smile. She lay in bed for three weeks greeting everyone, offering them whatever she had there, and sharing “I love you’s.” The men she loved the most never left her side—Kat, Marc, and Gunner. She was surrounded by friendship, love, laughter, and frankincense (thanks to Stacie).
Kelly Denise Whaley knew exactly how much she was loved, and she will not be forgotten. She will live on forever in our hearts and in this loving community that she helped to create.