Eustis loses unsung hero

R.E. Lundy on James O. Kennedy

The following is a digital reproduction of a January 23, 2003, opinion piece about my late grandfather James O. Kennedy, originally published by The Daily Commercial.

On Thursday, Dec. 26, 2002, the community of Eustis lost a hero, though unsung, a hero nevertheless. Why was James O. Kennedy a hero? Because he not only fit the dictionary definition as “being one who is looked up to for noble things he has done,” but also he fits the definition by impacting so many lives in a positive way as to alter the life courses of those he touched in his unique way.

James O. Kennedy showing off a large mustard green from his home garden

Let’s talk a little bit about the person, James Kennedy. James was the owner/operator of Kennedy’s Standard, later Kennedy’s Chevron service station, for over 20 years. When we talk about “service” stations, we are talking about somebody who swept out or vacuumed the floors, cleaned the windshields and the rear window, checked the oil and water, checked the tire pressure without being asked to do so, someone you could call with a flat tire or needed a jump start and you didn’t have to wait forever.

He was someone who, if you needed repairs in order to keep your vehicle safe, but couldn’t pay for it this week, would work with you beyond what today would be an “acceptable” time period. This is the same wonderful, caring individual who would take a young boy, absent from James’s positive influence would probably end up in jail, and teach that young man values that would serve the rest of his life, making him a very meaningful contributor to society. He did it with love and teaching of good work ethic, but more than anything else, teaching them to respect not only others, but themselves as well.

If you were a parent sending your 19-year-old daughter into a new city to establish herself, James was the type of man whom you would want her directed toward. He was somebody who, whenever that young lady had mechanical difficulties, would not take advantage of her and her naiveté, but would keep her automobile operating in a safe and mechanically sound way.

James was a man who saw to it that many young people were able to obtain credit at a time when credit cards, particularly Standard Oil, were difficult to obtain, were able to do so. James sponsored untold individuals with bad or no credit history in obtaining that coveted first credit card, thereby helping them to establish a lifelong positive credit history, enabling them not only to purchase gasoline, but later to purchase homes and to meet the needs of their families as they grew up, got married and had children. James was a man who was known by everyone from judges to grove laborers, from physicians to the homeless, and respected them all.

We don’t encounter very man people of the stature of James O. Kennedy in life today. We have generations who have grown up without knowing the meaning of a “service” station. Yes, James would pump your gas, clean your windshield, vacuum out your car, check the tire pressure, check the oil and the water, make sure your belts were OK, not sell you something that you didn’t need.

While he stayed busy enough with the things that needed to be done because he had earned everyone’s trust, he also cared enough to save a life here and there, seeing to it that the young and naive were not exploited.

Another chapter in our history is closed, and we bid a fire farewell to a man who deserves the title of “hero.”