Steve Latham died this morning. They tell me he slipped in the shower. His brother, Aubrey, was able to be with him during his final moments.
I still can’t believe it.
Steve was a big man. He wore a Santa-Claus beard and had the jolly disposition back it up.
He was a writer. A teacher. A media specialist. A good man. And he liked Andy Griffith more than anyone I know.
We spoke a few days ago.
“Remember that one episode?” said Steve. “When Andy thinks about leaving town? And Barney tries to talk him out of it?”
It’s a classic. Andy gets offered a job in Raleigh. He considers taking it. Barney tries to convince him to stay. It’s TV magic.
“I truly understand how Andy felt,” Steve said. “Andy just wanted to start the next chapter of his life, that’s kinda how I feel.”
As it happens, Steve did just that. He retired earlier this year from the Shelby County school system. He was going to start his own new chapter.
He was going to write.
“I’ve always been a writer,” Steve told me. “I just haven’t taken the final leap to let myself BE a writer.”
He deserved that much. After thirty-two years of helping Shelby County’s youth achieve their dreams, it was Steve’s turn to follow his.
I drove four hours to attend his retirement party. I stood in the high-school library with my shirt tucked in. A handful of his friends and family were there.
Folks told heartfelt stories. I watched Steve wipe his eyes when Patricia, Ann, Rose, and Aubrey took turns hugging his neck.
There were tears. Laughs. People took pictures with him.
One woman thanked him for mentoring her son. Another girl thanked him for teaching her to write. Someone thanked him for showing them how to compose research papers.
“Mister Latham was what being an educator is all about,” said one coworker. “Shoot, he was what being a decent human is all about.”
There were a lot of remarks like that.
Before I left, I hugged him. He wrapped two large arms around me and squeezed.
“I feel so alive,” Steve told me. “I’m gonna ACTUALLY write my book. I’m excited and scared at the same time.”
It would’ve been one hell of a book.
Steve could write. His words were honest, with more heart than a Hallmark greeting-card commercial.
He called me a few weeks ago. It was nearly eleven at night when my phone rang. He was energized. His voice sounded decades younger.
“I got an idea,” he said. “Before you say anything, just hear me out.”
I told him to fire at will.
“Would you write a blurb for my new book when it’s finished? Don’t have to be much, just a few sentences. It’d sure mean alot to me.”
I told him it was a ridiculous idea. I said I didn’t know why he’d want anything from someone like me. In fact, I still don’t.
“Because,” he said. “You are my friend, that’s why.”
Alright, Steve. I have come up with a few words, like you asked:
You were beautiful.
Please shake Andy’s hand for me.