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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Pam Hartman 

My old college friend Pam is dead at age 46. In addition to being sad, I’m a little pissed off about it. There’s one little thing I can’t let go of. It’s just that she and her partner were unable to fly last week to her father’s funeral, because Pam’s partner was a woman.

I know people always find reasons why a death shouldn’t have happened and mostly, those reasons are a way of delaying acceptance, but I don’t get this. I’ll explain, but first, let me tell you a bit about Pam Hartman and her partner Jeanne Kerechanin.

Pam and Jeanne worked together at a restaurant in Colorado. They lived together for a long time, leading pretty uncomplicated lives. Without much fanfare, they had a son, nineteen years ago, when it was pretty unusual for a lesbian couple to flaunt tradition and follow their parental urge. They raised their son, Eli, well and recently sent him off to college.

Pam and I lost touch lately, as college friends often do. I saw Pam last at a reunion of our college coop, but from what I gather, she and Jeanne worked hard in Manitou Springs, Colorado, had lots of friends, and by example inspired people in their community to live their lives with courage and strength. She and Jeanne stood up for gay rights and opposed efforts to institutionalize homophobia in their home state.

Pam was never very political as a college student, when I first met her. She was one of the sweetest, most brilliantly delightful people you’d ever want to meet. She was athletic and Pam got a lot of pleasure from playing sports. She was confident and always had a smile and a laugh to exchange with friends and acquaintances alike. Pam could light up a room when she came in. She was totally without the kind of defensive, judgmental attitude that, for a lot of us, passed for intelligence or deep thought. In short, Pam was a good person.

So we come to the present. Pam’s brother passed away this month and with a kid in college and only two restaurant managers’ salaries to get by on, Pam and Jeanne worried about the cost of a trip across the country to get to Beloit, Wisconsin. They wanted to get a bereavement fare break for two airline tickets to Madison, near her Mom, because they both wanted to be at the funeral to support their family in their time of grief. There was a wrinkle in this plan, though. Since Colorado doesn’t recognize any sort of legal family bond between gay people, Jeanne couldn’t get a bereavement fare. On short notice, a full fare ticket was just going to be too expensive, so they decided to drive.

I guess these things just happen and you can’t always know why, but here’s how Erin Emery's Denver Post article put what became of their little gray Honda in North Platte, Nebraska on their way east:

“The wind blew ferociously at 60 mph, churning dirt from a field onto the interstate. A semi-truck driver slowed to 35 mph in the "brown-out" conditions, and another semi, unable to slow down, slammed into it. The Honda was part of a pileup involving three other semis and two other cars. The crash also killed a Nebraska trucker and injured a couple from Golden.”

That was the last of Pam and Jeanne here with us. They were both killed instantly in the chain reaction on Interstate 80 last Thursday. They leave Eli, 19, and Jeanne’s older son Mike, from an early marriage. They were about to become grandparents. It won’t be the last of them in our hearts, but it’s not easy to come to acceptance of that just yet. Right now, it’s too fresh and right now, I know it’s a little thing to some, but I wish they could’ve gotten that airline ticket.

UPDATE: A great many people who read the blog have acknowledged their sympathy for the family and friends of Pam Hartman and Jeanne Kerechanin, many especially pointing out the difficult road ahead for their son, Eli, who is 20.

I’m happy to report that a fund has been established for Eli, who is still in college and who’s parents died without a will, meaning that there may be a protracted probate period while their estate is settled.

I’m a little skeptical about posting details of the fund online, because of the one-way openness of this technology. If anyone wishes to contribute, please send an e-mail to billkav@mac.com. I’ll pass on the trust info.

Bless you.

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