On Tuesday morning, October 28, 2014, my good friend Kenny King passed away after a long battle with cancer. Kenny was a loving father and husband, and he had been one of my closest friends for almost 20 years. I was honored to speak at his memorial service, and I wanted to share the notes that I used during the service.
Proverbs 18:24 teaches us that, "One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but a true friend sticks closer than a brother (ISV/NIV)." Matthew Henry explains this verse in his Commentary on the Whole Bible in the following way: "In our troubles we expect comfort and relief from our relations, but sometimes there is a friend, [who is unrelated] to us, the bonds of whose esteem and love prove stronger than those of nature, and, when it comes to [trials], will do more for us than a brother will." I cannot think of a better way to describe my relationship with Kenny King, for even though I have a younger and older brother by birth, they were stuck with me against their will; whereas Kenny adopted me by choice.
Kenny and I met in December of 1995 when he and I were hired by Microsoft in Tucson, Arizona. We were hired the same day, and our employee IDs show that he was technically hired six people before me. (Because of this, Kenny loved to point out that he had an hour or so of seniority over me.)
We were both hired as part of a newly-formed team which was to provide technical support for the same Microsoft products, so we went through all of our "New Hire Training" together. And it was there that I learned several important things about Kenny.
First of all, I learned that Kenny knew all of the best places to find Mexican Food in Tucson. He would organize team lunches, and he would lead a group of trusting coworkers to some of the strangest, hole-in-the-wall eating establishments which I would never have discovered on my own; yet he could convince everyone that we were going to be fine.
Which brings me to the next thing that I learned about Kenny: for those of you who never saw Kenny at work, he had a superpower - Kenny was an amazing leader. It never ceased to amaze me that you could throw a dozen people in a room with a problem to solve, and somehow Kenny would wind up being the guy at the whiteboard putting the plan together. He never asserted his role as a leader; people naturally wanted to follow him.
But I also learned that Kenny had a rather interesting sense of humor, and let me explain by example: in the first few days of training for phone support, we were required to go through several "Role Playing" exercises in front of our peers, where one person would coach another person through a common task (like making a sandwich). I was assigned to talk Kenny through the process of changing a tire, and I coached him through locating his tire iron, raising the car with the jack, and removing the tire. Everything seemed routine, but suddenly Kenny started yelling, "Oh no! My car is rolling backwards! You forgot to tell me to set the emergency brake! My car just crashed to the ground! Where's your manager?" Some people in my situation would have been horrified, some would have been offended, and others would have been furious - but I thought Kenny was hilarious. And at that moment, I realized that he and I were going to be great friends.
Kenny and I worked together for a couple months, but then I quit the team in order to help create another support team which was working on cutting-edge products for this new-fangled thing called "The Internet." As part of my new responsibilities, I was setting up several UNIX-based servers in a lab, and since my UNIX skills were a little rustier than Kenny's, I would ask him to drop by and help out. After a few days of "borrowing" Kenny for his expertise, my colleagues and I decided that it would be better to just "steal" Kenny. We gave him no choice in the matter; we simply told Kenny that he now worked with us, and he agreed to it. This proved to be a fortuitous change for both Kenny and me, because a few months later the products for our newly-formed team were some of the fastest-growing technologies in Microsoft.
Shortly after our one-year anniversary with the company, life handed us an interesting predicament: Microsoft announced that it was closing the support site in Tucson, and we needed to find other jobs within the company. Because our products were in such high demand, we had our choice of locations. With that in mind, (and I am somewhat ashamed to admit this publicly), the first person I asked - even before my spouse - was Kenny, because I wanted to see where he wanted to move. Kenny replied, "I don't know - where do you want to move?" And that was the humble beginning of a plan the two of us hatched which brought us to Texas. (I moved here first, and Kenny arrived a few days later, so I claimed that I had seniority in Texas.)
Believe it or not, Kenny and I came up with the following proposal: since Microsoft would give each of our families a one-bedroom apartment for a single month as temporary housing, we asked Microsoft if we could combine our benefits and move our two families into a two-bedroom apartment for two months. This meant moving our wives (who had never met) and our four children (who had never met) into 1,000 square feet of space for sixty days. Kenny and I thought that if we were such great friends, then our wives would get along, too. (We're guys - we can be stupid like that.) But as it turns out, our families did get along, and the group of us became great friends. We eventually bought houses around the corner from each other in Lewisville where we were neighbors and our kids grew up together. Kenny and I often carpooled to work when we were on the same team, and our families spent countless days passing back and forth between our two houses for birthdays, barbeques and holidays.
My wife and I became members of Grace Community, and we brought Kenny and Gloria to a variety of church events. It was on those occasions where people like Pastor Richard and Ladonna and a score of other wonderful people loved on Kenny and Gloria and their family so much that they couldn't help but fall in love with Grace, and they eventually became part of this congregation, too.
When Microsoft moved my wife and me to Seattle several years ago, our oldest daughter, Rebecca, was completing her degree at TWU in Denton, so she chose to stay here in Texas, and she moved in with Kenny and Gloria for about a year. Kenny became a second dad for Rebecca, and it is with extreme gratitude that I tell you that Kenny's wisdom and encouragement helped shape the person my daughter has become.
As most of you know, Kenny had several great passions in life: Christ, his family, fishing, golf, and - of course - the University of Arizona. When I moved back to Tucson last year, I began taking graduate classes at the U of A, and as I walked around campus, I started sending Kenny photos from various U of A landmarks with innocuous statements like, "Guess where I am and you're not?" and "Wish you were here?"
In the weeks that followed, I began to call Kenny every week or so when I had a break between classes to catch up on life. (Since the U of A mascot is the Wildcat, I would refer to our conversations as "Kenny's Weekly Cat Call.") We discussed a variety of topics, and when Kenny was diagnosed with cancer, our conversations naturally turned to discussions about his treatments and his health. But the subject that Kenny discussed the most was his family:
- KJ, Kyle, and Keynan - please believe me when I say that your dad was so proud of the three of you. Every week he filled me in on every detail of your lives, and you should never doubt how much he loved you all.
- Gloria - it was always evident to everyone who knew Kenny that you were the most-important person in his life, even though he sometimes told people that he was the most-important person in your life.
A verse that I have been reminded of these past few days is 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: "Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (NIV)" Because of Kenny's faith in Christ, I know that we will see him again, but for now my heart has a tremendous hole in it which only Kenny could fill.
Kenny was one of my closest and dearest friends, and I miss him terribly. And yet I have to remind myself that it is only my personal self-interest that wants Kenny here, for Kenny is where God called him to be. Gloria mentioned last week - and please forgive me for paraphrasing - that she knew Kenny would be healed completely, even if it was not during his time on earth. So I am thankful today that Kenny has been healed, and I look forward to being reunited him when God calls me home. Although God called Kenny before me - so Kenny will probably claim that he has seniority.