Richmond's loss: Town of 30,000 is empty without 5

HERALD-LEADER STAFF WRITERSMay 23, 2007 

— Some past-their-prime white mums have faded ungraciously in cloudy water in a dog-treat bucket outside Judy Rains' K-9 Design Pet Grooming. The sign outside the door still reads: "We will be closed for vacation, Aug. 28 - Sept. 6."

Everybody in town knows that Rains and her fiancee, Brian Byrd, died Aug. 27 in the crash of Comair 5191. It's all that people talk about, says Bennie Martin, who was outside the Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center trying to catch her breath. She says there is a noticeably new somberness in this town of 30,000.

It might be because the medical center lost its hostess-in-chief, Lynda McKee, the owner of the hospital gift shop. And everybody knew Lynda.

It may be because everybody knew Rains and, now, everybody knows the story of her tropical nuptials that were supposed to take place a week ago.

Or it may be because it has taken a week for the five Richmond bodies to be returned home.

The first two funerals for the five Richmond residents to perish in the crash caused the city to go quiet yesterday. Maybe Labor Day isn't the right day to judge the depth of a town's grief. A lot of businesses were going to be closed anyway. A lot of lawns were going to be mowed. A couple was going to shop for a mattress. A grandmother was going to swing her granddaughter at the Irvington Park playground. Every marquee was going to still welcome this fall's 14,000 Eastern Kentucky University students.

So some grief or simple sadness was going to lie low on a day set aside for picnics.

Except inside Richmond's First Baptist Church, where Brian Byrd, a few days short of his 29th birthday, was remembered by the Rev. Bob Taylor as "a gift from God." Taylor's own son had played baseball with Brian and he talked about how the Richmond native's "motor ran on high." Parishioners smiled at that and at the reference in a poem written by a friend -- and read at the service -- that called Byrd "the master of the tiki bar and the king of the grill."

Taylor implored mourners to find peace in this tragedy, reminding them gently that "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away." He reminded them that they were only "giving back to God what belonged to Him in the first place." He asked that prayers be offered up for Judy Rains' family for the sad chore they will have to do today in burying her. The funerals of Cecile Moscoe, 29, and Victoria Washington, 54, are also still to come.

Alongside the large white spray of flowers that covered Brian Byrd's coffin, his son, Trent, lay a single rose.

Two rows of grown men in their late 20s sat near the back of the church, weeping wordlessly when the 10-minute montage of family photographs showed Brian as a newborn, as a bunny, as a Little Leaguer, with a new car, with his buddies, with Rains.

Shortly after 3 p.m. yesterday, Brian Byrd was laid to rest in Madison County Memorial Cemetery.

Outside the Pattie A. Clay Regional Medical Center, Martin had spoken about meeting Rains once and said that that was enough to "hit you hard when it comes to something like this."

Inside the hospital, the talk was about McKee, a recent transplant to Richmond but a woman who had quickly become dear to the hospital community.

Crystal Evans stood in front of the gift shop explaining how McKee donated a lot of the proceeds from the gift shop back to the hospital. Recently she gave $25,000 for a proposed remodeling, said Evans. Her mother knew Rains and Byrd, said Evans. She knew only McKee.

"But everybody knew somebody," she said.

Lynda Jo McKee left Flemingsburg for Richmond three years ago when her husband got a new job, but she was homesick, said Paula Hyatt, her next-door neighbor in Flemingsburg for a decade.

When she returned for the last time to Flemingsburg yesterday, more than 300 mourners gathered for her funeral at the lovely old Flemingsburg Christian Church on the corner of East Water Street and Fox Spring Avenue.

McKee, 57, was on her way to baby-sit her grandchildren in Alabama when she boarded Flight 5191.

"Their baby-sitter had fallen and broken something, and her daughter, Tonia (Clay), had called and said, 'Can you help?'" Hyatt said.

"Lynda said, 'I'll be right there,'" Hyatt said. "That's what she always said. 'I'll be right there.'"

McKee, who was buried yesterday at Tollesboro in Lewis County, where she was raised, was a good mother, a good wife and a good friend, said John Sims of Flemingsburg after yesterday's service.

She met her husband, Barry McKee, on a blind date and wound up married to him for 37 years. She and her husband had lived briefly in Lexington before moving to Flemingsburg, which she still considered her home.

She was well loved and well respected, said Hyatt.

Mourners packed the white brick church to the sills of its beautiful stained glass windows.

"Sometimes," Hyatt said, "you can tell a lot about people by how many people attend their funerals."

And by how hushed a town becomes on the day they are returned to the earth.

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