Those of you who choose to read my latest novel, In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree, will notice a brief dedication at the beginning to someone named Landrin Kelly. It won’t mean anything to you; why would it? It’s just a name, like so many other names on so many other dedication pages, in so many other novels. The reactions will run from mild curiosity, to not even noticing it’s there. And that’s okay. The dedication is mostly for me, and, I suppose, for Landrin’s family, though I don’t know many of them.
I would like to use this blog post to tell anyone who may be interested, who Landrin was, and why I felt it was fitting to give him a dedication in this book.
I met Landrin when I was working for The Home Depot back in the nineties. We hit it off almost immediately. This wasn’t a common experience for me; it still isn’t. I’m your typical introverted writer, although back then I was still just dreaming about the actual writing part.
I was the new guy in a new store, and on my first day I was walking down an aisle in the garden department, just getting to know the place. This guy strides up to me and in a voice that sounded a lot like Red Foxx from the old TV show Sanford and Son said with absolutely no introduction at all: “You the new manager?” I confirmed I was. He said: “See these overheads? I don’t want to come in at night and find them all messed up. The last guy with your job didn’t know how to organize things.” I was silent for a moment, a little taken aback, then answered simply, No problem.
We were friends from that moment on. Landrin’s gruff exterior may have been the first thing he revealed to me, the first thing he revealed to most people, I expect, but I soon learned that it was just that—an exterior. Underneath the gravelly voice and gruff grumblings that I came to love was a shiny, kind, generous, and complex man.
In 2004 Landrin’s son, Terrance, a De La Salle football star and remarkable scholar, who had recently received a full-ride scholarship the University of Oregon, was shot to death in Richmond, California. It was random act of senseless violence in a world full of senseless violence. The shooter was just fifteen-years-old.
Having children of my own, I have no words to express how I would have felt had it been one of mine. I can never know the pain Landrin went through, but I’m certain it was enormous beyond reckoning.
For awhile Landrin turned inward. I had moved on several years before, but we still kept in touch. It was difficult speaking with him. He was distant and despondent. I know other relationships in his life suffered as well.
In the end, Landrin chose a path that truly reflected who he was. He and his wife, Mary, started the Terrance Kelly Youth Foundation. The foundation serves at-risk youth from impoverished communities, not only to prevent the tragic loss of life to young people like Terrance, but to prevent youths from becoming the perpetrators of these crimes, and to help them on a path to a rewarding life they can be proud of. Landrin wholly immersed himself in the work, and through this first decade of the foundation’s existence it has helped thousands of young men and women with educational support, scholarships, self-confidence building, counseling, and violence prevention training.
On February 13th 2017, Landrin Kelly was killed in a senseless act of violence. He was forty-eight-years-old. His alleged killer is awaiting trial.
In the Shadow of the Hanging Tree was due to be released on January 26th 2017. Due to random happenstances, it just kept getting put off. A short time after I received the news about Landrin, I was looking over the final proof of the book before it went into print. It would be my final opportunity to add anything. The book’s hero rises above personal tragedy, loss, and incredible adversity to selflessly save others. How many lives did Landrin save? I wondered as I read. How many lives, through his foundation, is he still saving? The addition of the dedication was obvious. It was as if the book had been waiting for it.
Landrin was not a perfect person. I don’t believe there is such a thing. But when the chips were down he channeled his grief and loss to help others. I didn’t see him much over the last ten years, and we went long periods of time without contact with each other, but when one of us finally picked up the phone and made that call, it was like we’d just spoken yesterday.
I miss you, man. See you in awhile.
*NOTE* This post was original published in May of 2017. The Terrence Kelly Youth Foundation has since been shuttered. It’s unfortunate, but I’d expected this might happen without Landrin’s leadership and inspiration. There are, however, many other worthy organizations working to help at-risk youth. All of which are always in need of donations. These young people are worth saving.