Ken Daugherty was a founding member of my husband Mike's cribbage club, and he happened to own two Inverted Jennys. I only found that out after years of very occasional, non-card-playing socializing with the cribbage gang over the years. Apparently, Ken’s possession of the two stamps came up in the trash talk inevitable in savage cribbage games. One night, Mike dragged his bloody carcass home and dropped that nugget into his account of the action. As a fifth-grader at the time of the Kennedy administration, I had heard about the upside-down airplane stamp that people paid ridiculous amounts of money to own. Now, I was desperate to see one.
Over cocktails at the Daugherty home a few weeks later, Ken laid the two glassine envelopes and a magnifying glass on the dining room table. It was like seeing King Tut’s mask or spotting Sean Connery at Heathrow. No doubt the dignity and elegance of the Daughertys influenced my rapture. They were tall, Joan well over six feet and Ken even taller, and soft spoken. Joan is an avant garde potter, and the stamps lay on a teak surface in a spacious room full of art and light. He poured Laphroaig to accompany the viewing.
The fifth-grade mind was riveted, and I started reading about the stamp, stumbling on George Amick’s book about the Inverted Jenny right away. Writing our book about the inverts was Deborah's idea. Ken, a retired analytical chemist and sweetly obsessed stamp collector, was delighted to submit to countless interviews. He loved schlepping out buckets of stamps and covers and autographed cosmonaut photos and models of airplanes from a cavernous room that resembled a hoarder’s lair. He encouraged us unstintingly. This as a malevolent sarcoma chewed him up from the inside. You can read about his brilliance and a few of his accomplishments in Stamp of the Century, though, needless to say, we had to leave out much of what made a full, interesting, and admirable life. What started with a handshake and a crisp nod in 2016 evolved into hugs, thoughtfulness, and confidences.
Joan, joked and teased us over our nerdy, stampy questions. She was diagnosed with breast cancer as he started a new chemo regimen. They welcomed us for questions between visits to oncology clinics. She got better, but he lost a leg midway in an effort halt the cancer. They took us to dinner, husbands included, and also to lunch. Ken submitted to trial chemos worthy of the Spanish Inquisition and yet cheerfully continued to ply us with Scotch and answer questions. He placed an order for ten books even before publication was assured.
On the Wednesday night that the manuscript was due, Ken's daughter, Kirsten, called and said Joan needed a ride in to Seattle the next morning. Ken had gone by ambulance to the UW Medical Center oncology ICU and his kidneys were failing. Can do. Book made it to the publisher, and I picked up Joan at nine the next morning.
At the hospital, Kirsten whispered that Ken would not be leaving. Deborah texted a picture of her computer screen with the page showing our book’s dedication to him, so he could at least see it on my phone. I left when the dialysis team arrived. That night, Kirsten called to say the procedure was a success and that Ken might be able to go home with hospice care. As such things so often do, however, his condition worsened.
By the time Deborah and I went over to Seattle on Monday morning, taking an electronic copy of the book with us, eleven members of the family had gathered. That evening, after we said our goodbyes, Ken’s son, Brian, read aloud the section about his dad. They said he smiled at all the right parts. Ken died about an hour later. Several family members later confided to us that the reading had told each person something they hadn’t known about Ken.
For us the ache is purely that of missing our dear friend. The regret is only that we could not put a volume into his hands and celebrate what we did together. But the gratitude surges with the tears. Thank you, Ken. We love you.