Crypto-linguist Katharine l. "Kay" Swift, age 95, died 31 March 2006 of a heart attack.
A highly respected NSA authority in the fields of linguistics and cryptology, she received the NSA Exceptional Civilian Service Award before retiring in 1972 with 30 years of government service, but continued teaching for the Agency for two additional years. Her major opus was a classified manual, Standards and Techniques of Code Reconstruction, plus a companion compilation of selected, illustrative technical papers by other practitioners.
Born in Michigan, Kay graduated from Kalamazoo College. In 1932 she received a Master’s Degree in English from the University of Michigan, followed a decade later by a second Master’s in French. During WW II, she came to Washington, DC, where she was employed by the Army forerunner of NSA, and later NSA.
Teacher, literary authority, role model, and always a lady - her interests were as diverse as her authority was imposing. She taught English, among other launguages, for seven years, including a year as an exchange teacher in England. She served for years as teacher, volunteer on the Information Desk of the Museum of Natural History, Meals on Wheels helper, a guide at the National Capitol, and a reader for the blind. At Collington Episcopal Life Care Community in Mitchellville, MD, where she lived for twelve years, she was a member of the drama club and a medical advocate, yet found time to compile the World War II reminiscences of fellow residents.
In the 1990s, Ms. Swift frequently appeared in the letters-to-the-editor columns of The Washington Post, correcting the newspaper's use of the words "heroics" and "diffuse," discussing its confusion of "who" and "whom," and warning of the dangers of banning books.
"When I was 10 or 11 my older sister discovered I was reading True Story Magazine and complained to Mother, who forbade me to read it, "she wrote in 1994. "Now, I was already getting bored with the magazine and ready to quit because, although women were having babies inappropriately, the stories never gave any of the basic facts I wanted to know. But this prohibition revived my interest and persuaded me to continue reading it surreptitiously for another year or two. So much for the value of book banning."
Ms. Swift was a longtime Phoenix Society member. Having no surviving next-of-kin, in a characteristic gesture, she donated her body to science.