Phil Rawlins was the face of Orlando City.
Kay Rawlins is its heart.
The face has faded into the past.
The heart beats for a brighter future.
“The split was difficult, partly because it was so public,” Kay says of Phil’s affair and the divorce that at first devastated her but now has reaffirmed her commitment to the club she and Phil co-founded. “We were a public couple. We were a package. It was a shock to everybody; not just me. That’s what made it so hard. When you see something coming, you can deal with it, but when it comes out of the blue that makes it so much harder.”
Phil was very open — some say too open — about his new relationship. The details and photos were all over social media for everybody to see and created an uncomfortable tension within the club itself. This wasn’t just two regular people getting a divorce; these were the two founders of the club. And make no mistake about it, the end of the marriage had a profound impact on the morale and sense of unity within the team itself.
Kay found out about the affair in December 2016. Five months later, the divorce was already final, Phil was remarried and had left Orlando for Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Kay handled it as she has always handled all her business with Orlando City: With dignity, elegance and grace. Yes, she was angry, embarrassed and humiliated. She went through all the different ranges of emotion and all the different stages of grief, but she has emerged with a new inner strength and a sense of purpose.
“All I would say is I rose above it,” she says now in her first substantial public comments about the divorce. “There are a lot of things I could have done and said, but that’s not who I am. The friends and family I have supporting me are unbelievable and that’s helped get me get through it. I call it gathering my tribe and I have an incredible tribe of people around me who love me, sent me messages and lifted me up every hour of every day until I was OK.”
Kay sits in her office today at the new Orlando City Stadium and proudly discusses all of the community projects in which the club is involved. All those years ago, when she and Phil sat across the kitchen table with a pad and pencil and wrote down what their dream soccer club would someday look like, Kay knew then what her role would be.
“One of the things we built this club on was the community and that is my passion,” Kay says in her British brogue. “Obviously, I love soccer and I love this club, but community is at the root of everything we’ve ever done and that was my piece of building this club. My job was to make sure that the community and the fans were always front and center of what we did and I believe we’ve kept true to that.”
Besides being the founder, her official title with the club is vice president of community relations. Her unofficial title should be vice president of making sure Orlando is a great place to live.
She not only heads up the Orlando City Foundation, she’s on the Community Leadership Council for the Howard Phillips Center and is a board member for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, Cannonball Kids’ cancer and the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness.
She organizes fundraisers and charity drives to fight hunger, homelessness, cancer and child abuse. A former pre-school teacher, she is also passionate about helping young children learn to read.
She has been instrumental in Orlando City’s effort to develop community gardens in Parramore — little patches of land that allow families to have access to healthy, fresh food. The club recently opened a farmer’s market outside the stadium where, every Saturday morning, Parramore residents can shop for fresh fruit and vegetables. Another one of her pet projects is helping Orlando City’s community-wide effort to build purple mini pitches where kids not only learn soccer skills but how to make healthy lifestyle choices.
“Kay’s vision helped bring this team to Orlando,” team CEO Alex Leitão says. “Her role is important because she is our bridge to the community. She is a person I go to when I have doubts or questions about what to do. She is a trusted adviser.”
There was a time when Kay didn’t think she would like coming to Orlando, but now she can’t envision ever leaving. She just became a U.S. citizen, which means she is British by birth, American by choice, Central Floridian by our incredible good fortune.
Her love affair with Phil may be over, but her love affair with Orlando is just beginning.
Since the divorce and Phil’s departure, Kay has become a more visible part of the club. It’s something Leitão wanted and something she wanted, too.
Now, she’s the one out there giving the speeches. She’s the one having a beer with the fans. She’s the one cheering and chanting on The Wall with the supporter groups.
“I love this club, I love our supporters, I love this community,” she says. “I’m so excited about the future and the things we still have to accomplish. This feels like a new era and a new beginning.”
Phil was once the face of Orlando City.
Kay remains its soul.
And, as always, its heart.
A heart — once broken — that now beats stronger than ever.
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