She was shortlisted for the "headteacher of the year" prize in the Scottish Education Awards this year after parents nominated her in recognition of her courage in leading the school during her five-year-long illness.
Colleagues have also paid tribute to her "remarkable" determination to continue working through her treatment. One of her last goals had been to achieve a Charter Mark for Kelburn Primary, but local authority financial constraints prevented her from meeting that target.
During the last week of term before the summer break, illness forced her to take time off, but she came to the final service and handed over the book and dictionary prizes traditionally given to all P1-7 pupils, taking the time to speak to each child personally. At that point, she had been given a prognosis of six months to live, but did not realise she had only a month left.
Born in Kilmarnock, where her father had a florist's shop, she studied English at Glasgow University, then went on to teacher training at Jordanhill College. She was an assistant head at Beith Primary before moving to Kelburn as depute head in 1990. She became head in 2001 on her predecessor's retirement.
When she arrived at Kelburn in 1990, classes had been scattered because the school was being rebuilt following a fire. Despite her self-confessed lack of musical talent, she organised a whole- school production of Calamity Jane in the former Barrfield Hall (now the Vikingar visitor attraction), bringing pupils, staff and parents back together again. She also set up a girls' football team which went on to win considerable success in competitions.
Outside school, she and one of her closest friends, Margaret Nicholson, set up a youth club cum drop-in cafe for the teenagers in Largs, recognising that they had nowhere to meet. Helter Skelter, as the cafe was called, has been open for more than 10 years and up until May, Mrs McAulay was a regular volunteer at it. She was instrumental in acquiring the premises on the sea front for the cafe, and over the years it has become home to other organisations, including the after-school club for P6-7 pupils.
Her colleague Maureen Loose, depute head of Kelburn, said: "She just felt there were children who had been doing quite well in P7 and then, when they got to secondary age, there was nowhere for them to go and some went off the rails so she wanted to provide a space for them."
Mrs Loose added: "She was a very practical and industrious person who could make people do things they thought they didn't want to do until she talked to them. That was a real gift."
Mrs McAulay is survived by a daughter, Nicola, and son, Alastair.