© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Obituary of Melody Kay Archer: A voice of hope, help

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 4, 2009 - For many years, Melody Kay Archer was the calm voice at the other end of the telephone line for thousands of people in the St. Louis area who found themselves in a crisis. Ms. Archer, who never used her first name, not even on her business cards, quietly led the United Way of Greater St. Louis’ Information and Referral Services, now 2-1-1, for nearly 20 years. Her demeanor belied her enthusiasm for her work.

Ms. Archer died Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009, of a blood clot at St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights. She was 46. A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 7 at Christ Church Cathedral, 1210 Locust Street, downtown St. Louis.

“She was quiet, but passionate,” said Charlene Hipes, chief executive officer for the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), the national professional association for more than 1,200 community information and referral providers. Passion, said Hipes, is a characteristic of redheads, a very visible trait she and Ms. Archer shared.

“When we (redheads) feel strongly about something, we feel strongly, Hipes laughed. “And I&R is a field that you either love or you don’t; Kay was one who loved it. I think we love it because you never know what’s going to come across those phones, whether it’s going to be something that will make you laugh or make you cry.”

Ms. Archer’s department had 29 full- and part-time staff handling more than 80,000 calls a year. They provided help to individuals in need, as well as professionals seeking information to help others, throughout the St. Louis area in Missouri and Illinois. While assisting thousands each year — with housing, jobs, child care and elderly services — Ms. Archer always wanted to do more. For years she worked diligently, often deploying skills befitting a hostage negotiator, to bring together the right people, organizations and funding sources. Her work resulted in United Way’s expanded information and referral services.

“Especially within a United Way, there’s an ability to bring people to the table. That’s what she did in working to bring about 2-1-1,” Hipes said. “There haven’t been a lot of strong personalities to bring people along in this area, but Kay worked hard behind the scenes to bring the system along.”

In an interview with the St. Louis Beacon last year, Ms. Archer said that most calls come from poor residents who often are desperate for help, and that the goal of 2-1-1 in the next three years was to triple the number of people who would receive referrals.  "If we're not getting those numbers, we haven't done a good enough job" of marketing, Ms. Archer declared.

Her devotion to her work made her “a champion,” said Gary Dollar, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

“The United Way and this entire community have suffered a tremendous loss,” Dollar said. “Kay was respected locally and nationally for her knowledge and expertise of information and referral services. She played a critical role in our response to Katrina and the summer and winter storms of recent years. She was lauded for leading responses.”

Ms. Archer was born and reared in Affton, graduating from Affton High School in 1980. She received a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington. During her sophomore year, she spent a semester studying in Austria.

Prior to joining United Way in 1989, she was a community relations coordinator with PATH Inc., a United Way funded mental health, crisis intervention and information and referral hotline in central Illinois, and a behavior therapist at the Judevine Center for Autism, another United Way supported organization.

Ms. Archer was a former president and board member of the Illinois Alliance of Information & Referral Services (ILAIRS) and a former board member of the Alliance of Information & Referral Systems.

She was a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops on information and referral topics. She had also served as a member and co-chair of the Missouri Disaster Recovery Partnership and was active in the formation of Long Term Recovery committees in several communities affected by disasters.

The active and caring career woman also “loved to garden and bake bread,” said her friend and former colleague, Patti Loth Chambers. “She was a deeply intellectual person, but she was always a nurturer. Her boys, Ben and Matt, were her world; she held them above all else.

“I think that she was one of the most intelligent, relentless advocates for people and their well-being I’ve ever known.”

Ms. Archer’s husband, Randy Newberry, agreed with Chambers. He met his wife when they both worked at the Marc Center, an organization that serves children with developmental disabilities, in Bloomington, Ill.

“She believed in a collective consciousness,” Newberry said, “that we all belong to a higher power, and that belief was reflected in her service to others. She was devoted to helping people: Friends, total strangers, anybody who needed assistance; anyone who was having a hard time.”

Newberry said their older son, Ben, has recently done volunteer work for United Way. It’s not surprising; United Way staff were accustomed to seeing the boys, who had been picked up after their mother’s full work day, waiting patiently outside Ms. Archer’s office for her to handle “just one more” request before heading home.

In a final act of caring, Ms. Archer donated her organs to help others.

Ms. Archer was preceded in death by her father, William H. (Bill) Archer.

In addition to her husband and her sons, Benjamin and Matthew Newberry, all of University City, she is survived by her sister and brother-in-law, Merrily S. Archer, who is called “Nemo.” and Lance G. Eberhart, and her nephew, Lance G. Archer, all of Denver, Colo.

Gloria Ross is the head of Okara Communications and the storywriter for AfterWords, an obituary-writing and production service.

Gloria S. Ross is the head of Okara Communications and AfterWords, an obituary-writing and design service.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.