September 11th, 2001. Each of us will always remember where we were that sad and scary day. I was at work in my office in Mount Airy, NC actually preparing to leave for the airport for a trip to Dallas. Each of us will remember it for the horror we felt as the twin towers came down and over 2000 Americans lost their lives in the worst attack of terrorism ever on our shores. All of us will remember it for that reason. Except for Pam Peoples Brasher. It was the last day she saw her baby brother Kerry alive.
I was almost exactly one year older than Kerry who was born on July 5th, 1966. We had so much in common as youngsters – the love of athletics as we both played every sport that was offered by our local recreation league; which was baseball, basketball and football. Our families also shared a love of Smith Lake as we would venture over to Double Springs… my dad would drop the boat in the water and my older siblings along with the Peoples kids would take turns water skiing, jumping off the Rock or just relaxing on the boat eating watermelon.
Thomas and Pat Peoples had 4 children. Kerry had 3 older siblings (2 sisters and a brother). Diane was the oldest, a year older than Pam and 3 years older than Wade. Kerry was 5 years younger than Wade.
At a young age, Kerry fell in love with basketball. He was a natural with a smooth jump shot and he shot hoops every chance he got. In the 9th grade, Kerry helped lead the Aggie boys to the Marion County Championship. In the 10th grade, Kerry transferred to Liberty Christian Academy in Guin and over 3 years led them to every small private school championship the state provided including the state championship. At Liberty, Kerry also met his future bride Janet Stell of Guin. In July 1985, after their high school graduation, Kerry and Janet were married. They moved to Hammond, Indiana and began their college career at Hyles Anderson.
Kerry had the brains and the desire to change the world. He had a passion for Christ. Every person that came into his presence could sense that he was special. He had a wry smile and a natural gift to never meet a stranger. He excelled in college and upon graduation he took a job as a history teacher and head basketball coach at Liberty Christian School in Durham, NC in 1989. His leadership skills and knowledge of the game changed the basketball program immediately. Kerry and Janet loved Durham and Kerry loved his job teaching those kids history in the class and then about teamwork and hardwork on the baskeball court.
Allison was born in October of 1991. She was the first granddaughter to be born in the Peoples family. I can only imagine the look on the faces of Thomas and Pat when Kerry gave them that news – their 4th grandchild…their first granddaughter.
After nearly 7 years in Durham, Kerry got an opportunity to return home and become the principal of Liberty Christian Academy, his alma mater. I’m sure it was a tough decision to leave their friends in Durham but it was something that he wanted to do. He would also assist the basketball team. Pretty easy decision since he still held the scoring records there; and no one ever came close to breaking them.
In July of 1997, Julie was born in Amory, MS. Nearly six years following the birth of their first daughter the Peoples family welcomed another girl; another granddaughter.
Kerry was becoming a leader in the community. He was a gifted speaker, a gifted preacher. He was doing exactly what he had been led to be doing and no one who knew him was surprised. He was respected by everyone.
In the fall of 1997, Kerry notice a small knot behind his ear. It didn’t seem to be anything major. Everyone has little cysts pop up now and then. It didn’t go away so he scheduled an appointment with an ENT in Tuscaloosa. The doctor examined it and told him that it was common and would be a simple procedure to remove and he removed it. The next day, Kerry received a call that the cyst contained a rare cancerous melanoma and was produced by his pituitary gland. Only a few months after his baby girl was born, he began radiation and chemo treatment. The treatments went on for 2 years and at one time he was told that his cancer was in remission and the chemo ended and Kerry went back to normal checkups.
In 1999, during one of those checkups a spot on his lung was spotted. The cancer had returned and it had spread. The outlook now was grim. At the age of 33, with a wife and 2 young children, Kerry was now slowly dying and he knew it. I can’t imagine his mindset at that moment. I don’t know how I would face the world. How I would react to all of the outpouring of concern and sadness. But I do know this. Kerry Peoples was resolved to fight it and use it to glorify God.
Kerry moved his family back to Durham. He was welcomed with open arms by his former church school regardless of his condition. Kerry didn’t want his family back in Alabama to watch his deterioration daily so the move was his decision. Always thinking of others.
Kerry was a gifted speaker and he felt God moving him to speak to others about what was on his heart. He began speaking in his home church and when he felt strong enough, would travel to speak at other churches. His motto was simple “I do not ask God why I have cancer – I ask Him what He wants me to do with it”. An amazing inspiration everywhere he went – to everyone who knew him and to those who heard him speak. In April 2001, Kerry returned to the church where we both grew up. My mother still talks of the strong message that he brought that day and many people saw their own eternities in a new light.
On Sept 11th, 2001 as the world watched the Twin Towers fall in New York at the hands of terrorists, Pam Peoples Brasher and her aunt Jane Tesney arrived in Durham to visit with Kerry. The cancer had now spread throughout his body. Pam remembers feeling the knots under the skin of his back and the pain in his eyes on that day. Pam had planned to spend the week in Durham to care for her brother. However, with the country seemingly under attack, Kerry was very worried for his sisters safety and demanded that she return to Alabama to care for her own terrified children. She knew he was serious and would not take no for an answer so she drove back to Hamilton immediately.
In October, Kerry knew his time was near and agreed to be moved to Hospice care. He did not want to die in his living room; with his young girls present.
On October 21st, Thomas and Pat visited with their youngest son and told him that they were ok. Everyone would be ok. He didn’t have to suffer any longer. His brother Wade drove them back to Alabama and then immediately returned to Durham to be with Kerry. He died the very next day on the 22nd.
An amazing man, husband, and father of 2 little girls now dead at the age of 35 after a brutal 4 year battle with lymphoma.
Kerry’s legacy will live on through many generations because of those who he touched.
I am proud to run the Chicago Marathon in his memory on October 9th, 2011 almost 10 years to the day when he left this earth.
I know that each of you reading this has a “Kerry Peoples” story within your own family or network of friends. Perhaps its a current family member or friend who is currently in the midst of a battle against cancer.
I am on a mission to raise $5000 for the American Cancer Society in their memories and in honor of those who are survivors or currently waging the war against cancer. As I train for the Chicago Marathon please help support the ACS by going to my web page at:
Together we can change the world.