Kent C. Williamson and the Lost Weekend
Doug types too much...
August 13, 2019
Judy and I started the weekend of August 2nd in a state of blissful ignorance.
We’d had our granddaughter spending the night, so we had the computer and the news off from Friday afternoon until after she left at noon on Saturday. We had her for less than 24 hours and she slept through 10 or 11 of those.
Our time with her was magical. We played in the yard. We watched Silly Symphony cartoons. We ate popcorn.
And every time Judy and I looked at her, we looked back at each other, and one of us would whisper, “She’s so beautiful.”
Followed sometimes by, “We’re so lucky in this moment.”
After our granddaughter’s Mom took the little one home, we relaxed on the patio and watched hummingbirds in a mating ritual. One of them fanned as they danced buzzing vertically opposite each other. I would bet this National Geographic display acted out just feet away from us lasted for a full minute. Which in hummingbird time is months.
A perfect private set of memories.
We hadn’t heard about Kent yet.
Kent C. Williamson was a lot of things. He was born in El Paso and was Texas bred. Among other things, he was a business owner, philanthropist, and an advocate for people that needed a leg up. My wife Judy and I knew him as a filmmaker first. If memory serves, we met him at the very first meeting of Charlottesville filmmakers back in 2004. He was always cordial, a skill I still struggle with. For a few years, we saw him regularly when he gave Charlottesville filmmakers a home for meetings each month in his self-built Paladin Media Group headquarters. He was a gracious host who made sure to provide plenty of finger foods and drinks at his own expense.
Artists were encouraged to bring and project new work. Kent was without question a seriously religious guy, yet he never tried to temper content or discussion about our work. In fact, some of the back and forth discussions at meetings could get pretty darn spirited, but never mean-spirited. He smiled through it all.
Kent was a family guy. He talked about family a lot. It was obvious his wife and kids were central to his universe. And he often spoke of his extended family as well.
In 2002, HBO put out their box set of a mini-series called Project Greenlight which followed a filmmaking journey from script through premiere. One night after our filmmakers meeting had wrapped, I mentioned to Kent that I owned it. He asked if he could borrow it. I am not a religious person myself, but I do attempt to maintain a level of respect with my friends that are. I told Kent I’d be happy to loan him the DVDs, but at the same time I cautioned him about the language quotient in the series.
Kent smiled and said, “No, I want to borrow it. Don’t worry. I still have a life after the kids go to bed at night.”
Kent was confident about his faith. Some errant cursing was not about to shake his devotion. There’s something to be admired about that.
Kent returned my box set a couple of months later and thanked me for the loan with a smile and a handshake.
Over the last decade, we saw less of Kent, but would still cross paths from time to time. Each time we’d see him, he never failed to respect Judy and me as a couple. He continued to be great at the cordial thing. We always seemed to pick up right where we’d left off.
Sometimes I went alone to visit him at Paladin studios and he would stop whatever he was doing to sit and talk. Part of his signature look was a black pork pie hat and I rarely saw him without it. On those afternoons I’d stop by out of the blue, he’d walk me into their reception room and we’d sit peacefully amidst his Dove awards. He’d offer me a bottle of water. The hat would come off and be perched on his crossed knee. We talked about movies and the constantly shifting technology and marketing paradigms. We talked about what we were currently working on. We talked about family. We talked about stuff I can’t remember.
On March 1st, 1999, my wife Judy was broadsided in South Carolina by a pick-up that sailed through a residential neighborhood stop sign. Posted speed limit: 25 MPH. The truck was going over 40. Judy was 4 blocks from our house.
I was at work huddled together with a visiting IT dude who was guiding me through intensive training. One of the Air Force kids who worked for me came in to tell me Judy was on the phone.
“Can you tell her I’ll call her back?”
“Um, no, this sounds urgent. You need to come to the phone.”
When I arrived at the accident scene, Judy was obviously shaken. There was a cop car. And the mail truck – we knew the driver on a first-name basis – he’d witnessed the whole thing and stayed to complete the officer’s report.
And then there was the driver of the pick-up who wandered around with a cut on his forehead lamenting that he didn’t understand why everyone was so mad. “I tried to slow down!” When I turned to accost that sonofabitch, an officer grabbed my arm and pulled me back, warning me not to turn the event into something else.
Neighbors straggled out to stare. One pointed to the pick-up driver and said, “He does this all the time.” A woman nearby nodded in agreement.
Let’s be clear. There were no skid marks on the road indicating braking of any kind. He T-boned her so hard, her van was knocked sideways up onto a corner lawn. His pick-up stopped short of going up the front steps of the house they collided in front of. And that was after traversing a front lawn. Judy’s vehicle was hit so hard, the engine compressed into a triangle. If her mini-van had been 12 inches more advanced in its trajectory at the time of impact, Judy would have been killed instantly.
She remembers none of the accident itself. Only a blur approaching on her passenger side. And the next thing she remembers is being stationary. The deployed airbag deflating. The radio was playing a song and she thought to herself, “I’ll never forget that song.” To this day, she can’t remember what it was. She turned off her radio and tried to open the driver’s side door. She panicked when it didn’t open right away. She had to force it.
She went through rehab in the months following. The only residual effect appears to be her neck which has never been the same and still bothers her from time to time.
I am happy she’s still here.
Kent C. Williamson is not still here.
Kent was in Michigan visiting family.
Kent was killed by a drunk driver on August 2nd. Along with his sister and her husband and one of their nieces.
They all died at the scene.
Kent was 52. He left behind a beloved wife of 27 years and 6 children.
The guy who killed Kent was out on parole after having served for a meth conviction. He was restricted from imbibing. Yet he was drunk and speeding through a stop sign right as a Honda sedan with 4 people inside were headed to the movies to see The Lion King.
Roughly 24 hours later, after Kent was killed by a drunk driver around noon on a Friday, an act of domestic terrorism occurred on a sunny Saturday at a busy Walmart in El Paso, Texas. A white-supremacist drove over 600 miles to get to the store where he murdered 22 and wounded 24 Saturday shoppers before peacefully surrendering himself to responding police.
13 hours later, at about 1 AM Sunday morning, a bar district in Dayton, Ohio was invaded by a shooter who killed 9 and wounded 26 in only 32 seconds of popping off rounds before police patrolling the district returned fire and killed him.
We knew none of this awful news while we were enjoying our granddaughter’s visit.
During the time we lived in upstate New York, a mother and her 2 children were killed instantly when a driver crossed the center line coming in the opposite direction. The driver who crossed the line walked away with nothing but scratches. He was relaxed at impact because he was drunk. Only he wasn’t supposed to be. He’d had multiple DUIs. The guy was restricted from imbibing. He was driving on a provisional license to go to and from work. No deviations allowed.
You can issue any piece of paper you want. It didn’t prevent DUI guy from stopping at a bar on his way home. And it didn’t stop a parolee from getting drunk and speeding through a stop sign at noon on a Friday.
It’s difficult to make people care when they don’t. There are some that are just okay with being dangerous to their fellow creatures.
The day Paul McCartney learned John Lennon had been gunned down, Paul went to work. He was criticized for that. His answer back was he had to do something normal that day and not fixate.
After starting with El Paso, reading about Kent on Facebook, and going to bed with the breaking news of Dayton, we were like Paul McCartney. We wanted to do normal.
On Sunday morning, we had coffee and walked the dog around our quiet neighborhood while it was still cool. Following a little breakfast, we went outside to work in the yard. Hauled bags of mulch around to cut open and spread. We got dirty and sweaty. Came inside to glorious air-conditioning, and after showering, we sat outside on the patio and split an ice-cold Red Stripe. We toasted to Kent. I felt like he was right there with us.
At one point, I looked over into the sun, crinkling my eyes against the brightness. Just for a brief moment, it was like I could see Kent standing there, dressed out in filmmaker black. Wearing his pork pie hat.
He smiled and dipped his hat.
It was what I wanted to see. That he isn’t gone. That he still gets to go home to his family.
And selfishly, that he might still want to sit and talk among his Dove awards if I happened to stop by.
Later, Judy and I cooked up some steaks. It was all so normal. Enjoyably so.
I am definitely not a religious guy. Kent was through and through. But we still connected with ease. He had that kind of kindness.
If you believe you go to the arms of Jesus – and Kent did – be comforted he ended up where he wanted.
As I write this, it’s been over a week since Kent left this earth. There have been periods of sadness – many thoughts about Kent and what’s important in life. I wept more than once.
I try to be thankful for every waking moment.
But sometimes you kinda wish you could turn back the clock and lose a weekend like that.
To when we still didn’t know about the mass shooting in an El Paso Walmart.
Or the one in Dayton.
And we didn’t know about Kent.
Yes, there were horrible shootings. Instant loss of life.
But there was also the Silly Symphonies and popcorn. Hummingbirds. An ice-cold Red Stripe.
I’m glad I knew Kent. We were never close friends, and I’m sure, if examined, many of our philosophies would clash.
It was gorgeous and sunny today. Birds singing.
Kent, I hope it was only an approaching blur. I really do hope you found yourself resting in the arms of Jesus.
Today I prefer to leave things unexamined.
I prefer to crinkle my eyes in the bright sunlight.
I prefer to see you tipping your hat and smiling.