Rest in Peace

 

August 7, 2019



“This isn’t just a loss to Saratoga and its community,” Saratoga resident Wanda Snell said shaking her head with eyes misting up. “This is a loss for Carbon County.”

Wanda was talking to me on the day after Keith McLendon, my buddy (20 years) and boss, had been pronounced dead in a Casper hospital on July 28.

It was a Monday and I had just gone into the office, dropped off my camera and recorder on my desk, and headed to the coffee machine.

As I started to get my mug, I realized I couldn’t be in the office at that moment because tears were starting to roll down my cheeks.

I walked out the back door and saw Wanda, who was working at Bridge Street Bargains next door. She was bringing in some donations that had been dropped off in the back.

She saw my sadness and asked what was wrong. I told her about Keith and that is when she said those words.

For those who don’t know this place, it is run entirely by volunteers in a store that takes in items given by the public and resells them and gives the money to charities throughout Carbon County.

Keith and I had a sort of tradition to go in almost every Thursday to see what was new. The staff knew us well. Keith and I loved we were giving to charity and getting cool things we absolutely didn’t need. We wear the same size shoe, so more than once Keith would find a pair and laugh that the early bird got the worm.


Wanda’s words were more prophetic than I realized at the moment.

The Guy had Talent

It isn’t often someone comes into an area and makes the sort of impact Keith McLendon did.

Twenty-six years ago Keith came to Saratoga, where he started out with Laughing Cow Press and later worked for Fishpaw, a retail store where Keith used his graphic arts skills. In recent days, I have heard people say he had a genius for graphic arts. That he did.

He did a lot of free lance sign work that can be seen throughout the Valley.

When I worked for a Spanish liquor company around seven years ago, I had Keith work on the graphics for a couple marketing campaigns on brands I was launching for the company. He surpassed my expectations.

There is a reason he won awards for layout and design over the years from the Wyoming Press Association.

Our First Meeting

Keith and I met in the Lazy River Cantina (now Duke’s), 20 years ago. I had just returned from Australia and was bartending. We discovered both of us had lived in Houston in our childhood and he wanted to buy me a shot of tequila.

Cool with me.

Then he exclaimed no person in town would ever do a shot of tequila with him and he told me we would be buddies.

He wasn’t wrong.

The guy was always there for me, even though I would disappear for years at a time when I lived overseas. When I would be back, he took me floating and had me stay at his house when I had been out at the bars and didn’t want to drive home.

Anyone who knew him would agree his generosity was amazing. Whether it was giving tips on shooting pool, buying lunch or just making you feel good about yourself.

He was great about all that type of stuff.

Keith knew the right words to say

Like so many people, I shared awesome times and moments with him.

The first occasion I really comprehended what a true friend he was and how well he knew me was when he called to tell me, as gentle as he could, Kirsten Campbell passed away.

Several times he had been with Kirsten and me hanging out. He knew how much I cared for her. When death happens, there is so much to take care of (as I am learning this week) and it isn’t easy for family and friends to inform everyone a loved one is gone.

I will never forget Keith’s kindness as I was going into shock and, somehow, he found the right words to console me.

I Honestly Don’t Know how He Did It, But He Did

I understand how hard it must have been for him

I got a real taste of how hard this is to do when I had to tell Keith’s father how his son died. The elder McLendon called the Saratoga Sun two days after Keith passed and said, “Can you tell me how my son died?”

Somehow, he had not been informed.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, bar none.

Remembering how Keith had taken the time to tell me of Kirsten’s passing and listening to my tears, it sort of makes sense how fate had me be the messenger (no matter how much I was crumbling inside) to his father.

I know there is some anger at him for how he ended his time here on earth. That moment after I got off the phone with his father, I felt that anger for a minute.

How could he do this to his family and people he loved?

So many people are crushed.

Then, I realized, we don’t have all the pieces to what compelled him to end the way he did and probably never will. Rather than being angry, I knew I had to suck up my pain and treasure all the great memories he made with me.

As the Days Went On

Over the next few days, something amazing started to happen. At least it was to me.

People and businesses in Medicine Bow, Hanna, Encampment, Saratoga and Rawlins were reaching out to us in the paper to make sure we were all right.

I mean a lot of people.

Josh, Amanda and myself all had our different reactions on how to deal with Keith being gone, but we appreciated all the kind words and demonstrations of sympathy.

The staff at the Saratoga Sun is a bit of a family and Keith was the glue that kept us together. It is no understatement to say we did the best we could to get the paper out that week under very trying circumstances.

We got help.

Great people who cared about Keith and the Saratoga Sun came in to assist us to get the 20 page paper out on time—well we were an hour late.

I saw so many tears in the eyes of folks over the week from all over the county, telling me how sorry they were that Keith was gone. I heard the sincerity in their voices.

I was also told often how his humor and wit would be sorely missed.

I can’t disagree.

The Good Memories

Are strong

I live 40 miles away from Saratoga and when I stay in town, as I mentioned prior, it has always been at Keith’s house. One time because I was literally snowed in, I stayed over for five nights. Each evening he had dinner and a movie waiting. In truth, he always had dinner and breakfast for me any time I crashed in his guest room.

I am pretty sure he did this for everyone who was his guest.

Suffice to say, knowing him for 20 years, working at his side for two, going on three, years and staying at his house as often as I did, I have a lot of excellent memories of Keith.

The last one we made, is especially enduring and I will never forget it as long as I breathe.

A few weeks back, Keith was a bit upset about something in his personal life. He had come by the office where I was working late and I could tell he wanted to talk. So we went to the Rustic where I bought a couple rounds. Usually, Keith was the person who bought drinks or lunch. That was just the way he was.

This time I told him I had our tab covered once I had discerned he was okay and left. The next day, he told me everything was back to normal.

We talked a little during the week in our friendship mode, but mostly our interactions were editor to reporter. I want to interject here, he was an outstanding boss. One of the best I have ever had.

We were alone in the office in the late afternoon and I was going over an idea of a story. He was getting ready to go out and cover a meeting and looked over at me and said words that will be embedded in my mind forever.

“Hey, I want you to know that what you did for me last week, I really appreciate,” Keith said. “It really meant a lot and I want you to know that.”

I answered he would have done the same for me.

“I’d like to think so,” Keith replied.

Then he came over to my desk and told me to stand up.

“I’m a big hugger and you’re getting one.”

He pulled me into his body and gave me a big Keith bear hug.

Three days later he was dead.

The Words Ring True

There is no sense to his death, so I am not going to even try.

What I am going to do, is remember all the tremendous times this man showed me, whether it was on the river, in the newsroom or watching cool cartoons at his home while we munched on dinner.

I am going to remember his legacy as a person who brought communities and people together in his desire to help them.

A friend from Texas, who was in Togie for her yearly visit, was talking to me and trying to give words of comfort just before the weekend started. She said Keith’s name was familiar, but she wasn’t sure who he was. I took her to his Facebook page and she went into a mild revelation.

“Not him,” She started to tear up. “He was the kindest, nicest person whenever I’d meet him out. I can’t believe it. This is terrible.”

She’s right on both counts.

In closing, I can’t help coming back to Wanda’s words. They were dead on when I first heard them and after a week has passed, they ring more true.

His passing is truly a loss for all of Carbon County and the people that live here. He will be greatly missed.

Rest in peace, Keith McLendon.

 

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