"I don't consider this a celebration," said Ward Chamberlin, WETA's president and general manager. "How can I celebrate Kay's leaving?"

Chamberlin was lamenting the resignation of Kay Corcoran, who most recently has worked in Channel 26's public information office, but is retiring after 20 years of service in various capacities to Washington's public television station.

And it was clear at the reception in her honor last night at The Women's National Democratic Club, that to speak of Kay Corcoran is to reminisce about the history of WETA.

Elizabeth Campbell, WETA's founder, remembered how Corcoran got her job with the station. They knew each other from a school board election, and then one day Corcoran offered to help Campbell carry some books into her house -- WETA's first office. "That was in 1961, and she's stayed with me and WETA ever since," Campbell said.

About 100 people gathered at the reception, including Patrick Hayes of the Washington Performing Arts Society, Aaron Goldman, chairman of the board of WETA, and Paul Duke, of "Washington Week in Review," who said, "She's one of the most helpful persons on the staff, and she had great contacts because she knows the area and the market." Corcoran's three children, Peter, Tom and Judy, also came.

And many others regard her, if not as "mother," then at least as an all-knowing aunt. "She taught me the ropes in public broadcasting when I came to WETA in 1970," said Michael Ballard, who now works for the U.S. Postal Service but is on WETA's board. "She was like your aunt, always bubbling and cheery. You always had to ask yourself how organized she is, but she always got everything done.

"And it always got done with such amazing grace."