Wednesday, March 13, 2013


My good Friend Ken Medernach got along just fine with Poseidon and Neptune.  As President of the Atlantic Ocean (since 1966), Life Member of the Society of Atlantis, a proud Admiral in the Georgia Navy, former member of the Chattahoochee River Keepers and a lifetime of dedication to water safety not to mention his birth and rearing in Savannah, Georgia - it appears obvious that he was OK with water.  Water in all its myriad forms was the essence of this man.

His many years of dedicated service with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a Safety & Health Officer and Project Specialist on disaster relief assignments across the country usually meant a Water vs. Man scenario where Water once again won. Ken with his spirited benevolent nature, incredible interactive skills and experience as a Director Safety Programs & Disaster Services for the Savannah & Georgia Coastal Empire Chapter of the American Red Cross was a natural for that position.  We joked with his always sincere greeting, “I’m from the Government and here to help you” though he always made believers of all his clients from Montana to New York to Florida and Louisiana among other venues.  Wherever there was a compelling need Ken was always at the ready.  We wondered about his capacity to continue his travels literally living most of his last few years in hotel/motel rooms and out of his suitcase and in venues where some natural disaster had left its mark. But, that’s how he chose to embrace life – helping people in need.

He took those opportunities and that ever elusive free time to occasionally hone his fly fishing skills in Montana and North Dakota streams and rivers (Big Horn River in MT & Missouri River in ND) making those assignments a little more bearable. The trout and walleye population appreciated his spirit of the chase and his mostly charitable catch and release demeanor.  Probably one of the more “Green” among us he understood and practiced what he preached.   He always tried to immerse himself in the local flora and fauna and was soon an integral part of that community. It was certainly hard not to like and respect Ken, perhaps even impossible, even though you may have disagreed with him. We could really use him in Washington, DC…  

To say that Ken was an “original” is true but, a rather polite and huge understatement. Superlatives just don’t suffice.  When they coined the phrase “to the beat of a different drummer,” they were talking about Ken. He was always politely edgy with a capacity to remind you that there was always that other side of the story, different perspectives and, indeed, many ways approach and solve problems. Convention was just the platform, the starting point, with the sky the limit. He was a proud and determined (what some might call) Liberal though that doesn’t do justice to his humanitarian perspectives that reminded us that we all have a responsibility, aye duty, to help those less fortunate. Again, he practiced what he preached. Ken would give the shirt off his back…

President Medernach was an avid history buff keenly interested in the native peoples that occupied the coastal southeast including the now extinct Timucua culture, the Muscogee (Creeks), the Yamacraw and, of course, the Guale-Yamasee who under Chief Altamaha took up residence near the mouth of what we know now as the Altamaha River in the 17th century. Ken recounts some of the sites he had visited in his autobiographical first book, On the High Seas, immediately getting my attention. He allowed me to proof his works sending them dutifully on for my review for syntax and mostly spell checking.  Ken was a terrible, no horrendous, speller and I always wondered why no elementary spell and grammar check? After all, it was just a keystroke… It didn’t hit me until much later that his was primarily a verbal or oral history exercise where in a stream of consciousness Ken put his words down and then depended on others to massage and edit. We pretty much stuck with his spoken format (even leaving in some of his misspellings) all the while trying to preserve his narrative point of view and style.  We would have loved to accompany him to Jonesborough, Tennessee the home of the International Storytelling Center and the leading event of its type in the United States, the National Storytelling Festival. We would have just sat back and watched as he charmed the lot, a master amongst other teachers.

Ken had no equal when it came to storytelling and his intent was not only to entertain but educate.  He shared his life experiences and glimpses into the cultures, mostly those of the Southern United States, by building very real characters and plots and ultimately allowing us to better understand who and why we are.  If Medernach were a Yamasee he would have been an influential shaman…   

Ken ended up writing three books, his autobiographical trilogy On the High Seas, The Nautical Companion a Glossary of Terms & Knowledge and Dragons and Chinaberries which he offered via his Thunderbolt Productions.  Though Ken had several Blogs he sadly was not a regular contributor and we suspect that a function of his demanding FEMA duties but probably more a testament of greater comfort with his verbal style.  By the time he got back to his hotel he grabbed a cigar and favorite beverage and settled in for the evening.

Like many indigenous peoples Ken used his storytelling and words to convey meaning and values.  He loved great ceremony and so was a great keeper of ritual making him perfect for the Episcopalian Church with all our bells and smells. Ken was a Verger at St. Luke’s in Atlanta, Member of the Vergers Guild of the Episcopal Church, Past Chair of the Atlanta Chapter and associate member of the Guild of Vergers Church of England. He was committed and remembered well and sent on his way by four of our best at St. Luke’s on February 28th.

His love and appreciation of ritual extended well beyond Church and into his love of history.  As a distinguished Officer and Gentleman of the re-raised 78th Fraser’s Highlanders, 2nd Battalion of Foot, Fort New Inverness Garrison Ken helped us grow and nurture that standard by remembering and affirming the contributions of our ancestors.  He was a member of Clan McNeil (Norse origins) and Clan McNaughton and celebrated those associations. Ken as Roderick the Resolute was an early active member of the Norse-Scottish Kingdome of Räknar who annually celebrates their always sideways perspectives on just about everything. Ken worked closely with this writer and Bob Swanson aka Hägar the Horrible in bringing to life the now iconic Hägar pin. Historians will note that the original Roderick the Resolute, a Barra MacNeil, was killed at the Heights of Abraham at Quebec in 1759 (French and Indian War) whilst serving as a Lieutenant in the 78th Fraser's Highlanders. Aye, goes around - comes around and, yes, they won!

When Chief Dode McIintosh the last principal High Chief of the Muscogee and Honorary Lt. Colonel of the 78th Fraser Highlanders was the Honored Guest at the Savannah Highland Games years ago, Ken choreographed Chief Dode’s visit to Savannah’s historic Colonial Park Cemetery where he paid tribute to ancestor and American Revolutionary War hero Major-General Lachlan McIntosh and others of their Ilk.  It was a stirring moment where Chief Dode placed a wreath of thistles on Lachlan’s headstone all accompanied by Fort New Inverness Fraser Highlanders Pipe Major Dan Titus who led a contingent of their Old Honourable Guard. It did not escape Ken’s always astute notice that this writer and Lachlan McIntosh both shared membership in the Society of the Cincinnati though our induction was some 200 years apart!

In the Scottish Community we remember the Auld Sod many times a year and especially so on Burns Night celebrations where we raise high our glasses and celebrate the “Immortal Memory” of the National Bard of Scotland.  Among the many “delicacies” we consume is the noble Haggis. Yes, it’s all done with great pomp and ceremony with the Haggis generally on a four-handled wooden trencher and/or large silver salver with adequate escort and protection (swords, sgian dubhs and dirks) in a grand processional all piped into the great hall and then before the first fork touches a plate we can expect to hear Robert Burn’s Address to a Haggis hopefully recited by someone of note with great and passionate presentation skills. Point of telling you all this? I’ve listened to The Address probably hundreds of times from the United States to Scotland to Canada and back again as interpreted by Scottish Chiefs, entertainers of note and everybody in-between.  None were better in their presentation than Ken Medernach not even John Rule of Ontario, Canadaand he is good. None were worthy to touch the hem of Ken’s kilt though we certainly salute their contributions and furtherance of the culture. Ken’s performance skills and interpretation of Burns from gesture, passion, inflection and timbre were impeccable and without equal.  Ken understood the words and sentiment.  Burns would have been proud…

Ken was a craftsman and worked in wood and metal especially with the help of good Friend, Georgia blacksmith and master iron monger Ivan Bailey. Years ago Ken fashioned me a gift - a long iron thistle nail intended as a, “pin wad help to mend a mill in time o’ need” for the Burns Address to a Haggis Ceremony.  Many years ago someone broke into my house between Canton and Alpharetta, Georgia and stole that coveted and cherished pin along with some CDs and an empty safe?  The thieves left two muskets and other weaponry neatly lined up on my bed – kids, probably scared them.  Now, more than ever I miss that pin

When my Mother, Betty Buxton, moved from Providence, Rhode Island to Atlanta she and Ken became hard and fast Friends and even closer Allies.  Mother was especially keen with Ken and fellow Fraser Highlander and Scot John Dall.  She could make Friends with anybody but she did have her favorites and Ken was probably at the top of that list which included yours truly. They swapped stories with Ken always willing to share his time to make that New Englander feel welcome.  Ken was always a preferred and well-appreciated guest in any Buxton household. With apologies to the MacRaes of Eileen Donan, “Whilst there is a Buxton inside, there will never be a Medernach outside.” 

Ken presented so many aspects it would be nigh unto impossible to completely capture the essence of this equal opportunity man.  We can say Ken was Father, Grandfather, Husband, Friend, Humanitarian, Clansman, Writer, Storyteller, Verger, Historian, Sailor, Explorer, Entrepreneur, Craftsman, Soldier and much more.  No doubt these and many other skills and expertise are noted on LinkedIn…   

Ken liked metaphor and imagery occasionally quoting poetry like Lewis Carroll’s famous line from Through the Looking-Glass that starts, “The time has come, the Walrus said to talk of many things…” Ken even had a blog entitled, Of Cabbages and Kings.   Indeed, for Ken life was an Adventure and he was Somebody crossing many brooks and streams and all the while listening to Thoreau’s distant drum.  

We might surmise that Thoreau also nailed Ken when he opined in his February 19, 1841 Journal, “A truly good book… teaches me better than to read it… I must soon lay it down and commence living on its hint.” Ken was action oriented immersing himself in everything he did - no 50% percenter here. Ken’s childhood adventures were only the start – a primer. He lived life to its fullest and left nothing on the field. We shall miss him though suspect he is now enjoying his ultimate reward perhaps enjoying an El Titan de Bronze cigar along with Ron, certainly in Valhalla, while watching Vikings on the History Channel. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to see him at some future time, though hopefully later than sooner.

“The time has come, the Walrus said to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax. Of cabbages and kings.  And why the sea is boiling hot. And whether pigs have wings.”

To Meg, Erin, Craig and Davis Renee. Well done, Ken. You didn’t pass this mortal plane alone… We will raise our glasses and say your name often


Ned Buxton

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