Nashville mourned today as Gail Kerr was laid to rest. Friend, cut-up, dedicated, certain, and a damn fine journalist… She was this, and she was more.
It’s no surprise that 700 people made their way to her service, comforting Les, Gail’s mom, her sister, the rest of her family. She touched that many, times a million, in her life. She and I used to gripe about the absurd attendance estimates that event organizers made. “Two thousand? (Snort.) I am NOT putting that BS number in the paper.” She’d smile to see a crowd number listed for her service, but we all know this one was accurate.
Those of us not able to be there today were devastated. I, for one, threw everyone out of my Dallas office at 11 a.m., shut my door and leaned back with my eyes closed. I let my mind drift to thoughts of Gail through my years at The Tennessean. Laughs, laments, successes, frustrations, disagreements: a typical, rich mosaic of newsroom life, both in and out of the office. Her MS diagnosis, which she adamantly demanded we virtually ignore, because she didn’t want to “be the story.”
I re-read our last recent emails… Unprintable thoughts about cancer, which had struck us both (we blamed certain editors for that), now colored by my survivor’s guilt. We are the same age. She was funny and eloquent, naming her relapse “Camp Suckyville, the Sequel.” And printable thoughts about life and love — especially her words about the husband she adored, Les. I will share those with him soon, although it’s nothing he — we all — didn’t already know: that she knew, without a doubt, that he hung the moon. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone as certain of their love as those two. She was a writer, a creative — but she used to listen to his songs, and her eyes would glow, and she would say, “Isn’t that incredible, what he can do?” Beauty, sheer beauty.
In the midst of all of the nastiness that cancer brings, she — again, typical Gail — took the time to thank me for helping redirect her column years ago. We wrestled, passionately, for many months about how to best aim her eloquence and fathoms-deep knowledge of Nashville into pieces with powerful heft, united in wanting everyone in Nashville to say, “Did you SEE what Gail wrote today?” She gave me too much credit for that success. It was her gift that did that, her gift alone.
During her service today, tears fell. Not just at Downtown Presbyterian Church, but 700 miles southwest, too. We have 177 mutual friends on Facebook, and I wrapped my mind and heart around each of them, sending my spirit eastward as intently as I could. Catherine, Frank, John, Sandra, Ted, so many more. I figured Michael Cass, another gifted staffer, would cover the service, and I sent him extra juju, because no one wants that assignment. I especially lingered with thoughts of Les and the rest of Gail’s family. I know their pain is bottomless right now, and that only time will ease it.
But I also know that none of us can hope for more than a life well-lived. And that, dear Gail, is exactly what you had. We’ll miss you.
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(I swiped this from The Tennessean’s web site. I hope they won’t mind. Photo by George Walker IV.)