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I never got to see the ocean on that trip we took to Belize, because while the surgeons

and Richard were examining the health centers/conditions in Belize, Richard became my director

on site, and I was assigned the task of examining the schools in Belize . . .



Richard Chenault II—2007 A Hero Passed On

And I Still Crash at the Thought

 By Bev Jenai


Several days ago I lost someone very dear to me in a terribly tragic and nationally publicized accident, Richard Chenault II.  He was the Transplant Organ Specialist for the University of Michigan Surgery Dept.  Their plane crashed in Lake Michigan as he was in the process of delivering a lung to U of M’s Health System for a heart transplant victim.  He was also my adopted son, per his request, a mentor in my mentoring program at the University of Michigan for over ten years., my hero, and a gentle, caring soul who was a strong masculine role model for many African American males.  He also was a coach and a mentor to numerous young people of varying diverse backgrounds, and especially the young ladies he coached in high school track.  In fact, as many of you have read, he was to receive the “Coach of the Year’ award the evening of his untimely departure from this earth. 

Many might say his journey here on earth was way too short . . . but as I began to reflect on and started thinking about the huge number of lives he touched during his 44 year. lifespan on this universe, his relevancy and his life began to take on a further glow, and it began to far outweigh what many of us will probably be able to accomplish even if we’re fortunate enough to live and double his 44 years on this earth as caring people. 

After recovering somewhat from the paralyzing and stunned feeling I felt after the calls started coming in from Ann Arbor, MI, on June 4th,  a Sunday evening. I began reflecting on the number of lives Richard had indeed touched, I mean literally touched . . . I mean the hearts, kidneys and other internal organs that he had to prepare, message and cleanse for the transplant operations held daily at the University of Michigan Health System, and the consoling ministerial manner he used with the families whose loved ones were undergoing these transplants. 

He of course, as mentioned above, was also an honored track coach, and a daily contributor to his church family, and one of the most fabulous fathers I ever was privileged to watch interact with his daughter.  I was privileged to take a trip to Belize about five years ago not only with several surgeons on the U of M Surgical Transplant Team, but also with Richard’s wife at the time and his precious super intelligent daughter Kayla.  I also met many of his prominent relatives on his Mom’s side in Belize—a bishop, a school director, and many others.   It became obvious that some of the character traits Richard possessed was not indiscriminately given to him . . . and that his giving, caring, and spiritual traits, obviously had become partially inherited.

I never got to see the ocean on that trip we took to Belize, because while the surgeons and Richard were examining the health centers/conditions in Belize, Richard became my director on site, and I was assigned the task of examining the schools in Belize . . .  talking to the administrators and determining the possibilities of incorporating mentoring/school to work programs there . . . A dream of Richard’s . . . to see mentoring/school to work programs incorporated into the Belizean School Systems. 

My personal reflections of Richard are many . . . and mainly of him tirelessly and religiously volunteering over and over again to mentor young men in the Youth Mentoring Program I coordinated at the Health System for twelve years.  Getting to know Richard’s desires to help other young people in the community certainly helped to consummate a special relationship between us.  I specifically remember his tenacious attempts to find a scholarship for an African American young man he had mentored for nearly five years, and for whom he had quickly become a father figure to.  Richard, of course, ultimately was able to accomplish this, and Mario was awarded a four year. track scholarship at Wilberforce University in Ohio. 

In the late 90s, I was also allowed, by the Health System’s HR department to take two mentoring pairs to a John’s Hopkins Health System conference on mentoring.  Richard and his mentee/student were chosen to attend this conference and represent the Health System there.  Although there were 100s of mentoring pairs in attendance from varying Health Systems, Richard and his mentee received a glossy full pictured featured article in one of the national magazines.  He was so so pleased and happy with this coverage, and needless to say the Health System was duly recognized for the Youth Mentoring Program they had run for many years. 

I’m sure many will recall as I do, Richard scurrying through the halls of the Health System with that broad welcoming smile he always wore on his face, heading to his next assignment and since he often did training sessions for the Health system and was a member of many committees, he always was in a hurry.  In fact the humorous side of me just got a mental snapshot of this “Superman” type figure about to change roles/or was it his white coat (smiles).

The past few days of course, have also brought back many more personal memories.  One of which appeared to be his sense of guardianship over me after my divorce.  After I took over the sole ownership of a 1900 sq. ft colonial home, Richard would often check to see if I needed any assistance with the outside maintenance duties that I often seemed to neglect according to him.  Because he did have a teasing and playful side to him, I remember him teasing me one day, as he teetered back and forth on my colonial rooftop home after he had appropriately chastised me for the number of weeds that I had allowed to collect in my gutters.  This of course, led to him ultimately taking time out of his busy schedule, and spending half a day snatching every single weed he could find from my gutters while still muttering about what bad shape the gutters were in (smiles). ea

I’m sure, many tears including mine, are being shed for this king of a man whom history books may not/will not record, but seemingly, Richard had found important keys to living his life . . . keys he often shared and used.  I believe he felt that to live one’s life in a caring, giving unselfish manner in Spirit, love and honor,  to be priceless and that one’s happiness often is/was a mere fringe benefit that came with that territory.  Being a sometimes writer, I dared not and could/cannot remain silent as I reflected upon this very special African American man, especially during these times, times when not enough love, or acknowledgement or recognition for accomplishments are given to our populace of African American men who are achieving and giving so much themselves in life.

I know, that I and others, will continue to grieve many many moments for this vibrant Spirit-filled man whom we were privileged to have had graced our lives . . . and  if you didn’t know Richard Chenault II . . . or only know him based upon what the newscasters/ media are telling you of the tragedy, or the terrible visuals you’ve seen over the past few days,  I hope you don’t mind my sharing with you, though my eyes/heart a few memories that possibly will help historically record Richard’s time here on our universe.  And, I also hope you understand a bit better, why Richard was loved by so many people. 

It ‘s not a mistake that Richard Chenault II touched so many people during his lifespan, literally, figuratively and in Spirit.  He has lit and holds up for us a light—a flaming touch, that hopfully we all will hold onto to tightly, and that we will continue to pass on to others, especially to those who need reminders of what the totality and measure of a true man is.

For those of us gifted by his presence in our lives, it is my prayer that his memory begins or continues to be an innately important part of our ongoing and caring journeys here on earth.  

Please pray for his personal & work family!

Copyrighted June 2007

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