kelly johnsonI’ve worked for Gary for a long time — 16 years or so now, by far the longest of anyone else at rAVe. But the person who’s been there the second longest is our accountant, Kelly Johnson, who has been with Gary and me at rAVe for 12 years. She died Monday from complications of COVID-19. She was 51.

If you’ve worked with us before as a customer or a contractor, then you surely talked to Kelly. She was memorable on the phone because of her incredible Southern accent, which was mentioned to me at trade shows more than once by people who had called our office. Strong regional accents aren’t as common as they used to be, including here in North Carolina. But Kelly’s accent was lovely and unaffected. Best of all, it didn’t have the “bless your heart” insincerity that is sometimes underneath the veneer of Southern hospitality. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body. She was genuine, and one of the kindest people I ever met. We didn’t deserve her. She didn’t deserve this.

Not that anyone deserves COVID-19 (well, maybe the president of Brazil does), but I can hardly think of anyone who deserved it less than Kelly Johnson. She always thought of and put other people first. She gave everyone cards or little presents for every holiday season and birthday. We give people Friday afternoons off here at rAVe, and she spent hers volunteering at the cancer hospital at UNC every single week. She laughed at everyone’s jokes, even if they were bad, and always remembered small details about you — like your favorite menu item from a certain lunch place. She looked out for all of us and was fiercely loyal. She told our youngest employees, often in their first job out of college, that they could come to her for advice on the sometimes painful process of becoming an adult, even if it wasn’t work related. She patiently answered questions when people did their taxes, particularly for the first time as an independent. I’m 14 years younger than her and was technically her boss, but she told me all the time that she was proud of me. I’d give almost anything to hear her say it again.

Since Kelly went into the ICU in late May, I’ve been working on our accounting. I used a remote desktop app to access her computer. Yesterday I opened it and even though I’d been using her computer for weeks now, it felt different, because this time I knew she wasn’t going to come back and see the little notes I’d been leaving for her as I tried not to mess up everything in her system. It made me sad to look at this interrupted digital life of hers. I wanted to feel connected to something personal without invading her privacy, so I pulled up her browser bookmarks. There were recipes and links to dress patterns and a folder on planning a Minecraft-themed birthday party for her son, Isaac. He’s 16 now, so I’m guessing that party already took place, but it still broke my heart into a bunch of little pieces to think about her trying to figure out how to bake a Minecraft birthday cake.

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Kelly and her family were so incredibly careful about taking precautions to avoid COVID-19. They hardly ever went out (I don’t think Kelly did at all), and always wore masks if they did. I know so many people, myself included, who have been much less careful than they were. I see friends and acquaintances — intelligent people I know to believe in science — on social media in groups much too close to others without masks — inside apartments or houses, on trips, on boats, at restaurant tables. It’s easy to think it won’t happen to you, or to someone you know, until it does. It is a cruel irony that Kelly’s family, who took no such risks, ended up paying such an extravagant price.

While she was in the hospital, she received every treatment I’d ever heard of for COVID — remedisivir, plasma from recovered donors — the day I read about the study out of the U.K. on dexamethasone improving outcomes for COVID patients, her husband texted me to tell me she was starting a course of it. She was at UNC, one of the premier research institutions for coronaviruses and their treatments. They weren’t overwhelmed with COVID patients like some hospitals had been and had access to medical treatments that other places didn’t have. Her husband was an incredible advocate for her, always asking if there was something else or more that could be done. In the end, all these things kept her alive longer, but none of them helped repair the damage to her lungs the initial infection did, so our sweet Kelly became another victim of this awful thing.

I don’t really expect this story, as painful as it is for me and for Kelly’s friends, family and colleagues, to make a difference in what anyone’s doing. At this point, you either believe scientists and doctors, you believe them but find it inconvenient to change your behavior or you don’t believe scientists and doctors, for whatever reason, and I don’t understand you.

I have to think that there’s a remote possibility that some good can come from such a tragedy, though, if only so I can feel like it’s not all so completely senseless. So maybe you’ve read this far and it will make you hesitate or do a little more research or think, hey … this really is still hurting people, people I know, and I can do things a little differently. Kelly was a mother, a wife, a volunteer and a really, really good person. She was my friend. And she deserved better.