Passing On – Kevin Lawrence Locke

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Above: Kevin Locke and his siblings. Circa early 1960s. (Photo courtesy of Deborah Locke.)

Clarification: Throughout his adult life, Kevin Lawrence Locke (Leech Lake Ojibwe) was sometimes confused with hoop dancer and musician Kevin Locke, (Standing Rock Lakota). The Lakota Kevin Locke, who was 68, died from an asthma attack on Sept. 30, 2022 in South Dakota. Kevin Lawrence Locke was the brother of Deborah Locke, who wrote this tribute to her brother.

Two days before his death on Nov. 18, my brother, Kevin Locke, asked for cable TV in his Duluth hospice room. He told the social worker that his sister, Deborah, would pay the $30 monthly fee and to give her a call.

The point is not that I’d happily pay for his cable (I would), or that Kevin even watched much television. The point is that the man had unlimited optimism about remaining on this side of the sun. No matter what obstacle that thief cancer threw at him, Kevin stood up and pushed back. Then one day this fall a Duluth doctor told Kevin that he was out of options. Kevin called my cell phone and left a one-word voice mail. “Terminal.”

Since his death I have heard from people who knew him from protest gatherings about water and pipelines and freeway expansions. Many knew him from the powwow circuit – he danced well and played the drum. Others knew him from school.

I knew him first and best as a little brother. When we were children, we skated and used sleds at Pinehurst Park in Cloquet, swam and boated at Big Lake where our parents, Fred Locke and Anna Marie Lemieux Locke, had a cabin, ran through the woods, walked to school each day and to church on Sundays, went to movies, and watched Saturday morning cartoons. Kevin served as an altar boy and was active in Boy Scouts. He also had natural athletic grace and strength, and later coached hockey. My brother liked people, laughed easily, and had many friends.

My first memory of him occurred on a road trip with my parents and siblings. Mom bought little dolls from a roadside gift shop for my sister and me, and a little truck for Kevin who was a baby. Kevin saw his sisters play with their dolls and cried. He wanted what his sisters had. Mom went back and bought a little doll for her son. He held the toy and calmed down.

My parents adopted us, four Ojibwe babies, starting with me. Mom was enrolled at the Fond du Lac Reservation. My parent’s cabin was on leased FDL land. We grew up with stories about Great Grandpa Lemieux and Uncle John and Aunt Maggie, the Shotleys, Dufaults and Rabideaus.

Sometimes we fought, me the bossy older sister, him the long-suffering little brother. Later, I moved out of state, he married and started a family, and we only saw each other at Christmas. When Dad died, Kevin cried. He cried when Mom died, big sobs that shook his shoulders. My brother, the fierce, outspoken protester with a short fuse, was at his core a gentle soul who felt deeply. After his cancer diagnosis three years ago, we texted often, sometimes daily, and he frequently closed with “I love you.” That is also how he ended phone conversations.

With time, hospital room conversations took a serious tone. He told me where he worked and attended college, which I finger typed into my phone for later use in his obituary. He knew and was close to members of his biological family at Leech Lake, but added that he was glad Mom and Dad raised him. He was glad I was his sister.

A few days after his funeral, I remembered Christmas, and briefly forgot that Kevin had died. I needed to ask what he wanted from Amazon! He always chose moderately priced, practical gifts. Then I remembered that Kevin had slipped away.

If Amazon sold peace, clarity and joy, I’d have each delivered to my brother. But he probably has all of that now, in large quantities. God bless you, little brother. Fly high, laugh often.