I wrote this post the day after Dennis Lane’s death. I didn’t publish it then, posting something shorter instead. His birthday is today, and his life is one I will always celebrate and cherish.
I first met Dennis in 1991. It was then that I’d started my first business, Do The Write Thing, and I had not a clue of how to get clients other than by advertising. But I’d heard of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and someone suggested I attend some of their networking meetings, so I went. I was scared, intimidated, clueless how to show up for the events and — at the time — significantly younger than easily 90% of the Chamber event attendees.
But there I met Dennis, and there I met a jovial, welcoming, kind and warm gentleman who always made me feel welcome and included. And as it was, I went to many such events in those early years, saw Dennis once or twice a month and developed a friendship that included some more in-depth conversations over drinks at — yeah, you guessed it — Clyde’s.
Our lives continued to cross paths — at the Columbia Business Exchange, being involved in the then-called Columbia Business Monthly newspaper and running into each other at community event after community event. While I have my own version of bubbly-ness and extroversion, I often need to first get grounded to a place and event before I can connect with others. Dennis has for many years and many events been one of my grounding points, making me feel welcome and included.
Over the years, I’d see him at coffee shops with a frequency higher than “just random” and we’d often catch up for a few minutes while standing in line together. I’d see him when I was out and about running errands, and we’d stop and talk for a while. Sometimes we’d go out for an impromptu drink after finding each other at an event. Whatever the case and whatever the place, he always seemed to have time for a conversation.
When I came back to my hometown, Columbia, after being out of the country for a while, there was this relatively new thing called blogging. I was quietly experimenting on my own and I started to find some local bloggers. One day, I commented on a post by Wordbones (who at that time had not revealed his identity as a blogger, but I was 99% sure it was Dennis). My comment was a snarky one, and I posted anonymously.
I emailed him shortly after to say I was back in town and to see if we could get together for lunch. He asked me then, “Hey, did you comment on my blog about (xyz)?” “Yes,” I told him. To which he responded, “I thought that was you! It sounded like you.” And at that exact moment in time, I made a decision. A big one. I decided that I would never post anonymously and that I would take a stand for people owning their own perspectives online, in particular and with passion, when commenting on blogs in a local community.
Ian, Me, Dennis and Bill at a Columbia Foundation party several years back.
When I decided to create HoCoBlogs.com with Robin Abello, back in 2007, Dennis’s blog, Tales of Two Cities, was one of the most regularly updated, locally focused blogs around. Ian Kennedy’s HayDuke was the other, and there were smatterings of other bloggers, though Dennis held then and continued to hold the spot as the most long-term, consistent local blogger. I couldn’t have — and wouldn’t have — started HoCoBlogs without Dennis as an anchor blogger. We started with about a dozen or so bloggers. Today HoCoBlogs has over 350 Howard County bloggers in its database. Not all active each day or even each month, but all local. And much of what has happened with HoCoBlogs is because Dennis was part of the DNA and seminal energy of our local blogging community forming. He provided, with his writing, his perspective and his personality, a center of gravity.
A short while later, the small posse of bloggers had gotten into a fight of sorts. A he-said, she-said fight where He and She were Democrats and Republicans. It got nasty. So nasty that the bloggers took their conversations off the public blogs’ and into private emails with the intent, I presume, that no one else would see the mud slinging that was going on. After a week or so of this, Dennis said in a stentorian voice, “Enough! We are a community. We’re neighbors. We know each other. It’s time we get together and have a drink together. I’m buying the first round!”
To which, I piped in and said, “And I’m happy to organize it,” and, thus, the HoCoBlogs parties wer born. (We called them blogtail parties at the time._ Nine of us came to the first such gathering and — yes, you guessed it — we met at Clyde’s. Nine became 12. Twelve became 15. Fifteen got stagnant for a while. And one day, after a dreadfully boring party where we all sort of stared at each other in too small of a space for way too long, the parties almost ended. But the blogging community was growing, with Dennis and Tales of Two Cities as a steady — the steadiest — voice in our community. And the parties found their groove and grew.
I found this photo on Dennis’s Facebook page and I love it! Here’s Dennis popping his head in for a photo opp (photo bomb?) at the library’s Choose Civility Symposium
One of the more simple yet of-impact statements Dennis said to me a few years back was this: “I want to make sure that writers get paid.” I remember how deeply this sunk into me when he said it, and it motivated me. I think Dennis always dreamed of a life where he could write professionally, perhaps not full time, but enough so that he could earn a living and provide for his family. He had his profession, his connections, his career and his industry; but if I had to guess, I’d say he’d trade all that in a sec if he could have made his living writing.
We — individuals and the community — benefited from his dream because he did love to write, and he loved his community. As others have quoted in their memories of Dennis, his blog profile says, “I live here. I work here. I love this place.” In some ways, Dennis didn’t compromise. He didn’t give up his dream of writing because he couldn’t earn a living at it. He did it anyway. And he wrote a newspaper column. And he did a biweekly podcast. He found his way to be in the world as a business man, community member, board member, friend, advisor, colleague … and he found his voice and a way to express himself while being deeply integrated in the institutions and organizations of our community. He spoke his mind without being mean, and when he didn’t like someone, he was clear about it … and such people made me pause if they didn’t pass the Dennis-o-meter of Good People-ness.
When it was time to vote, I read his blog posts, his perspectives and his thoughts, trusting his voice more than I did the local newspaper recommendations. Day in and day out, I read his posts. I came to know him even more, in the way that many people who read his blog did… we followed the community through his eyes and felt the ups and downs of his own life.
And then, yesterday, Friday, May 10th, he died. That’s what I heard first, that Dennis was dead. (Sad!) Then in the tweets and Facebook updates and news updates, I heard he had been killed. (Shock!) Then I read a tweet that used the M word, “murder.” (Tragedy!) I’m not going to process my feelings here in this blog because I don’t even know what to say.
I can tell you my experience though. There was a gathering. A spontaneous gathering of others in shock. Yes — you guessed it — they went to Clyde’s. Out of town for the earlier part of the day, when I walked in, I was greeted by an open half circle of people facing the door. On each person’s face and in their hearts was the shock, the sadness, the grief. Usually at bars, groups of people face in to each other. They put their backs to the outside and form an enclosing. With this gathering, it was more like a basket, an opening, a welcoming into the circle of people united in their love of community and their love for one of our greatest citizens. In this group, I felt welcomed and included.
And time after time, story after story, I heard the same common denominator, the same thread. People who didn’t even know they registered on Dennis’s awareness beyond a hello were often surprised to discover that he knew of their dreams, read their blogs, knew if they had or hadn’t been blogging lately. They told tales of his encouragement and how he motivated them to start blogging, or to pick it up again. And in these stories there was a note that rang true: to a person, each of them felt from Dennis welcomed and included.
There’s a happy hour in celebration of Dennis’s life tonight. Clyde’s, 5 p.m. I’m sure that when you show up there, you’ll be both welcomed and included.