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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Godspeed, young Conrad

by Mike Masterson | April 17, 2021 at 8:13 a.m.

Jeanetta's mid-20s granddaughter, Kylie, had just started her job as a nurse in Joplin. She'd found an ideal little home to rent, and her partner, Conrad Tyrrell, was preparing to join her from Fayetteville, N.C., so they could complete plans for a promising future together.

I'm told they already had looked for rings.

Things definitely held only pastel-blue skies on an exciting horizon for the handsome couple who'd been together 18 months. At 25, Conrad who was very well-liked by those who knew him, and held advanced degrees in nutrition and related specialties.

He was the clinical nutrition manager for the Culinary Services Group in Fayetteville, N.C., and a senior certified pharmacy technician for Walgreens.

On a group cell call not long ago, Conrad (enjoying his bulletproof phase of life) excitedly said he was planning to purchase a motorcycle.

Jeanetta, Kylie and Kylie's mother Kelley all strongly tried to dissuade him, explaining how dangerous cycles can be with their limited protections and so little margin for error.

That can be especially true for those just beginning to ride, although I feel certain that, to Conrad, the sincere warnings sounded like overly concerned people who wouldn't understand his desire.

On Easter Sunday, Kylie had to miss a family brunch and gathering. She was working at the hospital. Then came the phone call that was the furthest thing from her mind.

She learned Conrad had been killed in Dublin, N.C., after taking his new motorcycle out on the streets for only a second time.

Although details remain sketchy as I write, several Samaritans afterwards took to Facebook to say they had been at the scene. They immediately became a band of strangers praying together over Conrad while he lay in terrible shape as his end approached.

One held Conrad's hand. Another located an Easter sermon on a hand-held radio to play for him. Brent Underwood, who had just left a supermarket, couldn't have imagined that within moments he'd be using his leather belt as a tourniquet to stanch a young stranger's bleeding.

Underwood wrote on Facebook that fervent prayers surrounded Conrad, and that "to say the man was in a bad way would be an understatement, but we did our best to save him. I've only heard people pray like that once in my life and it wasn't for a stranger. There's no way God didn't hear!"

Several others on scene expressed their thoughts on social media, including John Cory Russ, who said he watched his wife and others do all they possibly could to save Conrad.

"What I witnessed today was terrible in one sense and inspiring in another sense," he wrote. "The world would have us to believe that our differences separate us. But [from] what I saw today, our differences didn't matter, as our common goal was to work together to help each other help a stranger."

Although Conrad had just entered the early summer of what was bound to become an abundant life and career, his passing far too soon left indelible impressions on the lives of those who'd worked so hard to save him. And there were the many others who appreciated his sense of caring, intelligence, wit and potential to do good for others.

For instance, the human resources manager at the facility where Conrad was the nutritionist reportedly told Conrad's mother that his tragic passing prompted her to finally reach out and reconnect with her estranged son.

Conrad's life ended much too soon and in such a sudden and horrible way. Today, Kylie, Conrad's parents and many others connected to both families understandably continue to grieve his loss. I believe the mourning will continue for as long as they live.

Co-worker Jessica Martin wrote that Conrad genuinely cared for others and was always smiling, after already having achieved impressive things with so much time remaining to give back to the world.

Emily Owen, another who worked alongside Conrad, said everyone who knew him also knew he such a "special and loving light in this world," adding that it brings her peace to know he had people there giving their all to help.

Another wrote that there was never a dull moment whenever Conrad was working. She described him as one of those employees who made work more bearable because he was constantly making others laugh.

Carnesha Smith agreed, saying she'd seen all the lives he touched, and that he was such a loving and funny person.

Sierra Burks said she was "still struggling to find the right words, but you were loved by so many people. A great co-worker and even better friend [who] always put a smile on everyone's face."

At his funeral last week, Conrad's mother spoke of what a good person her son had been all his life. "One of his favorite sayings was it costs nothing to be kind," she told those attending the service.

It's time like these the ones left behind are left to wonder what would be if he had never made the choice to buy the motorcycle. Jeanetta, Kylie and Kylie's mother all warned Conrad about buying the powerful machine. He obviously chose to disregard their concerns and follow his own mind, expecting all would be fine.

Hopefully, we all can learn from his terrible death, alone on a motorcycle, a tragedy that's regularly repeated across the nation. Just follow this newspaper.

In 2018, 4,985 motorcyclists died in crashes, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Insurance Information Institute also reports that in 2018 those on these bikes were 27 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a crash per vehicle miles traveled.

If nothing else from Conrad's passing, we can again agree how brief and unpredictable our lifetimes are. And in this early spring season with the green, twisting hills of Arkansas calling, anyone on a motorcycle needs to wear a helmet and exercise great care.

Potential catastrophe insidiously lies in wait--a handful of loose gravel, a wet pavement, a missing helmet, surrounding traffic, random animals and inattentive vehicle drivers.

The difference between being in this world or forever gone is often determined by a single error in judgment, often made in a rush of emotion rather than rational thought.

Unfair to Holt

I may have been a tad unfair to NBC anchor Lester Holt when I quoted his remark during a journalism ceremony where he stated "fairness is overrated" in today's media.

Holt apparently was referencing the bigger issue of rising dangers created by misinformation circulated primarily online, and that always striving to fairly allow equal weight to two sides of an issue can be dangerous unless those views are rooted in truth.

Yet he also warned of opinion-oriented cable news programs that fail to honor journalistic integrity and stick to reporting only facts at hand.

Reporting truth is certainly an ideal with which I (and this newspaper's Statement of Core Values) wholeheartedly agree, assuming a reporter is able to know all the facts before they inform others on any issue, which too often isn't the case.

Most often, truth trickles in piecemeal, requiring more than one reporting effort and certainly fairness in the process.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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