It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
And so it goes in my short tenure as publisher of the Gonzales Inquirer.
As far as the worst of times, last week started off with a horrible shock and loss. Keith Carter, the co-owner of the Long Branch Saloon, died unexpectedly on Monday, January 8th of a pulmonary embolism at the astonishingly young age of 52. He was my friend.
And he was one of the reasons why I came to Gonzales. Please indulge me.
When I interviewed for the position of publisher way back in October on the Come and Take It weekend, I wandered around the city looking for things to do and see. I happened upon the Long Branch Saloon, and was immediately taken by its name. Growing up, I was a devout follower of Marshall Matt Dillon, Miss Kitty, Festus and Doc when Gunsmoke was on TV (I had to be—my granddaddy made the entire family watch it on Sunday night. We had too; he owned the TV). When I stepped inside the swinging doors of the Long Branch, I didn’t know my life was about to be transformed, but it was.
I walked in, and after a brief conversation with the manager, I was informed that the owners of the bar had moved here from Michigan. I was immediately intrigued, because that’s where I hail from. It was also the day of the Michigan-Michigan State football game, and I wondered whether they bled Blue or were MSU fans.
Keith walked in, we were introduced, and we immediately hit it off. We went out back, talked about life, cigars, feral cats, Michigan, California, Oregon, and Arizona—but mostly we talked about Gonzales. He loved it here, and he couldn’t say enough nice things about the quality of life, the friendly people, and the opportunity.
“The paper needs a strong leader and someone who will step up and take a leadership role in this town,” Carter said. “Now I’ve only known you for a short time, but you will do good things here and you will love living here. Don’t walk to get here—run! Come and take the town by storm.”
Well, now what do you say to that? How do you respond? Well, I turned down an offer in Oregon and came back to Gonzales. And to see Keith. And now he is gone.
It hurts a lot, but I can’t even begin to imagine how his lovely widow Karen feels. They were inseparable, and they made a great team. My prayers and thoughts for his wife and children somehow seem shallow, but I do hurt for both her and for him. Gonzales is a lesser place with Keith Carter gone.
On the other side of the ledger, it was the best of times as I made some new friends who have opened up their homes, hospitality and friendship to me. On Saturday night, I sat at the same table as Pete and Leann Wilkerson at the Go Texas dinner, and we had a blast. Later, I got to spend time with Lisa and Tom Brown, and a cast of hundreds, and they have all stepped forward and made me feel very welcome. It was a very therapeutic evening talking with new friends. And to all the folks at the Go Texas dinner on Saturday night, thank you about the nice comments about noticing the local direction of the newspaper and introducing me to so many wonderful people. I even got to meet the Sheriff, a future judge, a future congressman and a host of other great people. It was a lot of fun, I bought a few things, and had a great time with my girlfriend Judy who was out visiting from Lansing, Michigan.
But at the end of the evening, in spite of all the fun, we left the event to attend the wake at the Long Branch celebrating the life of Keith Carter—the man who talked me into coming to Gonzales.
It truly was the best of times and the worst of times.
And finally, a personal shout out to Kat Penrose, a reporter who works with me. Kat made it her personal mission to help supply food and other necessities of life to present to the Edwards Association, the group who puts on the Martin Luther King activities and the Dream Maker Award. Kat went to Gonzales Lions Club and asked for donations for food to help the needy. She had noticed that last year the Association didn’t have as much food to take out to the hungry and to area families in need. So this year she made it her personal mission to collect over 250 cans of food, other dry food, and other food condiments to help feed the needy.
I am proud of what she had done. Well done Kathryn Penrose!