Tears fall and our hearts ache. Almost 48 hours have elapsed since the horrific mass shooting—the worst in U.S. history—at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I cannot get past one tragic fact. Jack is gone—one of the fifty-nine precious souls that were taken in an act of unspeakable evil.
Jack Beaton was a regular guy. Married to Laurie, with two college-age kids, Delaney and Jake. I came to know Jack because he lived next door to Jeff, Joni, Hudson, and Layla; my son and his family. Their world has been rocked by the death of a man they all adored.
I didn’t know Jack well. I knew he was a hardworking roofer by trade. His hot tar trailer was often seen billowing smoke into the neat and tidy Rosedale-area neighborhood. If the smell of tar wafted through your windows, you knew Jack was getting ready for another workday.
He enjoyed camping, often in Pismo Beach with friends and family joining up and forming a modern-day circling of the wagons. Really though, anyone was welcome to join the inner circle.
Jack liked country music, while else spend three days at a music festival?
He loved his family, his two mixed-breed dogs Dixie and Poncho, and his friends.
Jack was kind and giving and fun-loving and he just liked being with people. His was a simple life with great rewards.
Got a beer? He would stop what he was doing, pull down the tailgate of his truck and enjoy a beer with a friend, many evenings with my son after work. Jeff will miss these times with his buddy.
Most often laughing and lighthearted, Jack could wax philosophically with the best of them. He gave simple advice where advice was welcome and kept his wisdom to himself when it wasn’t.
These nuggets of time weren’t about the beer, though Jack did love a cold brew and a shot of Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky. No, these moments were about time. About camaraderie. About life. Days move quickly and Jack was all about living out each day; in sharing his time with those he cared about.
I got to know Jack best one weekend when Jeff and his family were out-of-town. Jeff left their beloved family dog Kacey in the care of Jack. Kacey was old and ill, but hanging in there, until she couldn’t any longer.
Jack called Jeff on Sunday to say that Kacey had died. I was the only family member not traveling, so Jeff called me.
I went to sit with Kacey until Jeff or my husband Mike could get home. I couldn’t stand the thought of our sweet Kacey lying there alone. Just a dog some might say; just a body at that point. But that dog was special. Jack understood that.
As soon as I arrived at Jeff’s, Jack appeared from nowhere. He held me as I cried, leading me to Kacey’s body. He had thoughtfully sprinkled scented oil on the body to mask the inevitable aroma of death, and then covered her with a sheet.
Jack sat with me on the concrete as I wept over Kacey’s body and told stories of her mischievous puppyhood. He laughed with me and then he cried with me.
He could be tough talking, but inside he was soft. Real men do cry, and Jack was a real man.
He didn’t leave me until Mike arrived. Jack’s compassion that day was a reflection of just what kind of guy he was. Anything for a friend.
After that day I saw Jack only when I visited my son. He almost always could be found outside puttering around the house, putting away tools after work, playing with his dogs, having a beer and guffawing with Jeff.
At every mention of the shooting, I’m reminded of Jack’s smile. It seemed to always grace his face making his eyes crinkle and his apple cheeks dimple. It was this smile you most often saw.
And that gravelly voice . . . I hear it now, as I did whenever he greeted me. “Hi, Momma.” I wonder now if Jack even knew my given name. He never used it.
Last week Jack put together some roofing materials for a project Mike was completing in our backyard. He left them in the bed of his truck and instructed Jeff to make sure Mike got them.
On Saturday, from Las Vegas, Jack called Mike. He wanted to make sure he had everything he needed to complete the project. It was the last time any of my family would talk with Jack.
That call took just a few minutes. But Jack took those minutes because people mattered to him. Jeff mattered. Mike mattered. And now those precious minutes matter to us all.
Jack’s thoughtfulness came naturally. But he was a whole lot more than loving, compassionate, giving, and thoughtful. A person could never thank Jack for being a good friend, for doing for others. If we tried, he cut us short saying, “Well, that’s just what you do,” like, doesn’t everyone?
It was the sum of all these traits that caused him to throw himself on top of Laurie, shielding her from gunfire that horrific Sunday night. Jack’s last act of a devoted husband was to take a bullet for his wife.
Of course his love for Laurie was paramount in his thoughts and actions. But if she hadn’t been there, I feel certain Jack would have done the same thing for anyone in that crowd of 22,000 people. He was the kind of person that put others and their needs above himself. The instinct to protect was written in Jack’s DNA.
Some might ask how I can feel such profound grief at the loss of a guy I knew only casually. I asked myself that same question.
Here’s the answer. Jack was genuine, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy. No pretense. No hiding his personality. You got the whole Jack and nothing but Jack. Take him or leave him. My family took him and we are grateful for the experience.
My encounters with Jack might have been minimal, but they were the real deal. I saw how he loved my son and his family. I benefitted firsthand from his compassion. I witnessed his joie de vivre, his love of life. We all experienced his generosity of self.
It doesn’t take long to care deeply for a person who gives back that affection with no strings attached.
This is why, with swollen eyes and a broken heart, I mourn this regular guy, who wasn’t regular at all.
Jack was a hero not just to Laurie, but to everyone he knew. We look up to him in memory, we respect him as the finest sort of human being, and we miss him.
The hellish evil that rained down from the 32nd floor will never weaken Jack’s light; will never diminish the love we hold in our hearts for the gravelly-voiced, apple-cheeked hero from Bakersfield, California.
The tailgate is down, the beer is cold, and the shot of Maker’s Mark has been poured.
May you rest in peace, Jack Beaton.