The Curious Columnist

joey-kennedy Who I am.

By Joey Kennedy

In the mid-1980s, I had the pleasure to work with Jo Ellen O’Hara, the longtime food writer and editor at The Birmingham News. Jo Ellen recounted recently that when I first introduced myself to her, I said, “Hello. I’m Joey Kennedy, and I’m a Republican.”

I don’t remember the moment, but it sounds like something I might have said. I was a Republican then. Not long before, I had come to The News from The Anniston Star, a decidedly left-leaning newspaper. I was known as The Star’s “token Republican.” Before joining The Star’s sports staff, I had worked as press secretary for Republican candidate Guy Hunt’s first run for governor. Yeah, the unsuccessful one.

I am not a Republican today. I’m no Democrat, either. I leave the political parties to others. Over the years, as I studied the issues, regained my faith, lived and observed life, my views evolved. I spent long hours discussing life in Birmingham with my wise neighbor Odessa Woolfolk, and my mind began to open.

I am very curious, a good trait I think for a columnist.

Someone once told me that if you aren’t changing, you’re the same person now that you’ll be the rest of your life. That doesn’t sound like much fun to me. I worked alongside great journalists and writers—Ron Casey, Harold Jackson, Terri Troncale, Bob Blalock, Eddie Lard, Robin DeMonia and, yes, Jo Ellen O’Hara, whose knowledge of Birmingham’s history and Birmingham’s people is deep—and I learned that framing the issues of the day, any issue really, in absolutes is not how I wanted to think. Or write.

The opportunity to write for B-Metro is a gift. I love telling stories, and this won’t be a political column as much as I hope it’s a column for readers to enjoy spending a little time with, whether they agree or disagree. I have close friends who have different views, and I’m good with that, as are they.

I grew up in southern Louisiana, so I find a nice, spicy gumbo of thought comfortably filling.

But let me briefly reveal how some of my views evolved. Veronica, my wife of 35 Februaries, and I helped take care of each of our parents as they entered their sunset years. Veronica’s father, a World War II veteran, always told me he was a cook—yet he came home from Europe with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. This war-hero cook was a wise man who didn’t talk about the horrors he witnessed. He died in 1986 from emphysema. His life, his quiet example of perseverance, gave me a deep respect for not only veterans from the Greatest Generation but all military veterans. And since, I also became convicted that we make war too easily these days.

At about 60 years old, my mother was diagnosed with two primary cancers, lung cancer and breast cancer. The breast cancer later metastasized into bone cancer. She died at her home at 63 years old. She died far into hospital-related debt. She did not have health insurance, which insurance companies refused to sell her because of her “pre-existing condition.” People often ask me what I think about the Affordable Care Act. Not much, but better than nothing. My mother’s terrible experience left me supporting single-payer, universal health care for all, and I still do.

My mother-in-law had a stroke in 1991. She lived with us for most of the next decade, through other strokes and heart surgeries, and never regained the ability to speak clearly. A religious fundamentalist, she hated it that Veronica and I were, of all things, Baptists. She believed that the tornado that struck that Methodist church near Piedmont on a Sunday morning in 1994, killing 20 worshipers and injuring more than 90, was sent by God. She died in 2000 of heart failure. Her brand of faith, and it was a strong, fear-God’s-wrath faith, led me more than ever to cling tightly to amazing grace, to never judge another by harsh religious terms, whatever religion.

My father was an alcoholic who was shot in the center of his chest by this third wife (not my mother). She used a .38 revolver, the bullet clipping his sternum, one lung and exiting under his arm. He survived, and lived with us for a while before returning to south Louisiana, where he died of pneumonia in 2009. I’m still sorting out the lessons of this father who abandoned his family because of drink.

All of us are informed by who we are, by where we come from, by what our lives present us. We are informed by success and failure. By experience and education. By our faith, our partners, and our families, blood and otherwise.

It is a curious life, indeed.

A reader, after seeing the announcement that I would write a column for B-Metro, said I “might want to leave liberal commentary at home.” Oh, I’ve been called a liberal (though a prominent businessperson in Birmingham once told me if I lived in any other state, I’d just be a moderate). I prefer to think of myself as simply curious.

So, hello. I’m Joey Kennedy, a curious columnist.

20 Responses to “The Curious Columnist”

  1. Rian Alexander says:

    Please. Keep on being, just what you are, yourself. Reading your writing makes the world a better place.

  2. Barbara Pierzakowski says:

    excellent. That’s all that needs to be said besides glad to know you.

  3. Donna O'Brien says:

    One of Birmingham’s true gems. Not only is Mr Kennedy extremely talented (we all know that) but he is a passionate and good man. He is a loyal and true friend to so many. Unfortunantly, those traits seem hard to find nowadays. Congrats to B-Metro. You scored high with this catch!

  4. Clyde (Buddy) Jones says:

    Great artical , Joey Hope I can get some more as you write. Have a great evening.

  5. Kim Shoemaker says:

    Hello, Joey. I’m Kim Shoemaker. Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. I wish you the best!

  6. Marilyn Greely says:

    Believe you are home Joey!!!

  7. Ruth B Cook says:

    Love your debut column and the legacy of thought and experience it shares. This kind of writing is’s loss. Stay curious. Will look forward to your quality perspective in future columns.

  8. Sue Ann Torre says:

    What a marvelous introduction! Looking forward to continue learning about Joey and where his curiosity leads him. Congratulations on your first column.

  9. Donna HIMES says:

    I enjoyed this article and am so glad that you will be writing for bmetro. My family knew Jo Ellen many years ago. She is such a talented and lovely lady. I also know Bob Blaylock, and am so
    glad that he got out at the appropriate time.

    Donna Himes

  10. Kathy Ray says:

    Fantastic start. Have missed seeing your columns. Pretty sure anywhere else I’d be a moderate as well. Here, I’m considered a flaming, progressive liberal. It’s all good. So good to have you back, Mr. Kennedy. You’re my favorite. Kathy Ray

  11. Doug Gray says:

    Your column was sent to me by a friend. I like your voice, your pacing, your attitude. Looking forward to your writing.

  12. Carol R Cauthen says:

    Joey, I enjoy a writer who presents views on different subjects. It is the discretion of the reader to sort out the important ideas.

    Just like turning the radio or tv off if I do not want to see whatever is on–violence, obscenity, etc.–I can put the article down and move on to something more appealing.

    We all are a product of our family, environment, life experiences and sharing can be a positive affect, or not.

    You and Veronica are dear to me. I value friends of many beliefs and interests.

    I particularly get a huge kick out of the antidotes of ‘four-legged family members’.

    So glad you have an opportunity to write for BMetro.

    Carol R Cauthen.

  13. Jill Peerey says:

    You have always been an amazingly interesting person. You may be curious, but your experiences with family and friends have also made you wise. I look forward to reading more. Also, I am thankful that your writing talent and ever-changing perspectives on life will touch others through the B-Metro!

  14. Ramona Thompson says:

    Joey, your article brought tears to my eyes as it reminded me of my being a family Care Giver. What an honor to be able to give loving care to those who brought us into this world.

    Having been in the revenue cycle of health care for most of my life, I am also a proponent of a single payer system. I could write volumes about the abuses I have seen from carriers. Your comment about your mother’s financial predicament due to her health hit home.

    I will close in saying that I will certainly be following you in your new column and ask you to say hello to Veronica for me, and give a hug to your furry Voiceless Ones.

  15. Lynn Duvall says:

    And I thought most everything in B-Metro was a puff piece. So glad to be wrong! Carry on.

  16. Jean Johnson says:

    I think I’m going to enjoy hanging out with this curous columnist.

  17. Buddy Casey says:

    Loved reading you column. Make one think a lot.

    Btw what part of south LA. My mother was from Laplace.

  18. Kathy Buttram says:

    Love reading your columns!

  19. Mike Putman says:

    Hi Joey,

    My mother always spoke highly of you and Veronica and those days at the Press Club where I was virtually raised. Time has flown as I’m sure you’re keenly aware. Career #1 for me has been shelved and now working on #2. Check out Tallulah’s events and see if it may interest you. Like you, she was VERY curious! Thanks, Mike

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