There are not many times when a person can say that they have met someone who changed the trajectory of their life. When I met Ken Souza that is exactly what happened to me.
My wife Laurie, our newborn baby Simone and I move to Mattapoisett from Atlanta, Georgia in the summer of 2006. We only knew two people in the area and had no family living nearby. We were taking a leap of faith, looking for a place to raise our daughter in a safe environment with great schools, nearby beaches and brighter employment opportunities. After getting out from under all of the moving boxes and settling into our new surroundings, it was time to find a job. I picked up a copy of The Wanderer and I saw that they needed a writer who could also take photographs of local events. After gathering some courage, I decided to send in my resume and a writing sample, ‘Why not?’ I thought. I had nothing to lose. I had had work published in creative writing and poetry magazines, but I was a photographer by trade who knew how to write, not a writer who knew how to take photographs.
To my surprise, I received a call the same day that I dropped my application off at The Wanderer’s office. The voice on the other end of the line belonged to Ken Souza and he asked if I could come by the next day for an interview. We set up the time and the next day around 1:00 pm, I would meet the man who would, as things turned out, changed my life.
When I drove up to The Wanderer’s office, I noticed a KISS ARMY sticker on the back of an SUV parked beside the building. I took this as a good sign, I had been a member of the KISS ARMY, the rock group Kiss’ fan club, as a teenager in the 70s. I walked in, introduced myself to Ken and the office manager, Pattianne Aleks, and took a seat next to Ken’s desk. The first thing that struck me was Ken’s smile; it was friendly and reassuring. I felt at ease right away. After fifteen minutes or so of the usual interview questions, Ken surprised me and asked if I wanted the job. I said ‘yes’ right away and he told me he would send me an assignment within a day or so. He asked me who my favorite member of Kiss was and I said it was guitarist Ace Frehley. He said, “me too!” with a big smile. We spent another ten minutes talking about Kiss concerts we had each seen. We found out that we both also loved the group Cheap Trick, John Carpenter’s horror movies and his favorite author Edgar Allen Poe. Ken said the piece I sent for him to read reminded him of Poe. He told me that was the reason he hired me.
The first writing assignment I received was to interview the new Executive Director and staff of Old Rochester Community Television (ORCTV), the new cable access station that was set to telecast that week in Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. The interview went well, as I had a background in TV from high school and college. I knew the right questions to ask and enough about cameras and other equipment for Brian, the director, to ask for my phone number saying, “You really seem to know your stuff; can I call you if I ever need some help here at the station?” I said ‘sure’, not really thinking much about it at the time. Two months later, I received a call from Brian offering me a job at ORCTV as the programming coordinator.
I let Ken know that I had been offered the job with ORCTV but that I wanted to stay on with The Wanderer as well. Ken said that he was okay with the arrangement and then he casually slipped in, “You know I am the president of ORCTV, right?” I had no idea. I asked if he knew Brian had offered me a job and Ken said he had no idea but he was happy for me and once again gave me his blessing.
A few years later, Ken left The Wanderer to become the editor of The Anchor, a Catholic Church newspaper covering the local dioceses. He also left the ORCTV board around that same time. We remained close and our friendship grew over the ensuing years. Ken and his wife Margie would invite my family to summer barbeques and holiday get-togethers at their home, introducing us to their friends. Some of their friends became our friends and we would invite them to our home for the Fourth of July, Christmas Eve and birthday parties. We introduced them to our friends and our friends became their friends. Ken and I went to see an Ace Frehley concert together a few years ago. I caught one of the guitar picks that Ace threw into the audience and I gave it to Ken. It was a thank you gesture for everything he had done for me over the years.
Long after Pattianne and I left The Wanderer, we would get together once or twice a year with Ken and Margie, Pat’s husband Louie and my family for dinner at Sweet Ginger’s Chinese restaurant in Fairhaven to catch up with one another. These people became our family. Ken and Margie became surrogate aunt and uncle to my daughter Simone. Pat and Louie are like her grandparents.
So, fourteen years have passed and here I am. I have worked at ORCTV since 2006 becoming the station’s director in 2013. In late summer 2019, Ken and Margie told us they were moving with Margie’s parents to Atlanta, to be closer to her brother and his family. While they were sad to leave their hometown, they said that it was time to try something different.
We got together a couple of times with Ken and Margie before they left in October. We were excited for the new life they were starting. We wished them well on their adventure and promised we would look them up the next time we came to Georgia for a visit. We imagined taking them to our old haunts and having them show us the new places that they had discovered. We were sad to see them go but happy knowing they were going to a place we knew so well. It looked like we might see them on a trip to Atlanta we had planned for September 2020…
The year 2020 has thrown every plan in each of our lives into to disarray. The trip in September was canceled, along with our chance to see our friends. Then about a month ago came the sad news of Ken being hospitalized. Margie gave us regular updates and we held out hope for a quick recovery. On Sunday morning, we received word of Ken’s passing. It is still a shock. It is weird to write, and stranger to say. Our friend has gone to join his mother, father and sister who passed before him.
I have not written for The Wanderer in over a decade. I am glad they gave me the opportunity to write this piece. Ken Souza was as kind a person as you will ever know. The day I met him changed my life and the lives of my family for the better, forever. When the virus goes away Ken’s friends and family will meet again to honor and remember him. We will share happy stories and speak of the blessing it was to have had Ken in our lives. We will remember his smile, the great laugh and the kindness of a man who touched all who knew him. Thank you, Kenneth Joseph Souza for everything. We miss you.
By Robert Chiarito