BROOKSVILLE — Last Thursday, Murray Grubbs sat next to his old friend Leland McKeown at the Country Kitchen on Cortez Boulevard, just as he had done nearly every month for the past several years, for breakfast with the rest of the "Old Fogies Club".
As the two men parted, Grubbs remembers his friend grasped his hand in a warm handshake, looked him in the eye and told him he hoped they would see each other again "real soon."
That's the way it always was with the man he had known since first grade, Grubbs said.
"We were good friends for a long time," said Grubbs, a former Hernando County commissioner, "and when he shook my hand it meant lot to me."
The two men never saw each other again. Mr. McKeown died Monday at the age of 83.
A fifth-generation Hernando County resident, and a graduate of the storied Hernando High School Class of 1946, which produced many of the community's pillars, Mr. McKeown embodied the spirit of the true Southern gentleman, his longtime friend, Jim Kimbrough, recalled Wednesday.
"He was what you would call a man's man," said Kimbrough, CEO and president of SunTrust Bank/Nature Coast. "Very friendly to everyone. If Leland had any enemies in this town I'd be very surprised."
Through the years, Mr. McKeown made his mark in the community. After marrying Barbara Breen, his childhood playmate, in 1952, he opened and managed the Men's Quality Shop in downtown Brooksville. A few years later, he launched a career as the county's first State Farm Insurance agent that lasted 21 years.
Living on property north of Brooksville where his family has lived for more than 150 years, Mr. McKeown also took a deep interest in civic leadership and local politics.
During the 1950s, he joined what was then called the Junior Chamber of Commerce and, a veteran of the Korean War, was a member of the American Legion in Brooksville. When the Brooksville Rotary Club was formed, he became a charter member and served two terms as the club's president.
Mr. McKeown was elected in 1986 to the Hernando County School Board, a post he held for 12 years. Later, he served as a trustee for Pasco-Hernando Community College, and he held numerous leadership positions at First United Methodist Church of Brooksville.
As Hernando County grew, Mr. McKeown began to realize the mark that his generation had made. At a funeral for an old friend a few years back, he saw several fellow members of the Hernando High Class of 1946, including Grubbs, and remarked to him that it would be nice for all of them to get together from time to time.
Grubbs said the group began meeting the third Thursday of every month at County Kitchen. About four years ago, they started organizing a fish fry and picnic that now attracts nearly 200 people to Bayport Park every year.
"We started it because we're just a bunch of good old boys who like to tell stories," Grubbs said. "Leland always had good stories to tell. And I'm going to miss them."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or email@example.com.