Drama professor Bill Jenkins, whose son was murdered, has published a book to help other victims of traumatic loss 

Street Talk

Father Turns Loss of Son Into Lessons for Others
School Hopes Sign Will Return, Again
Two Things Certain: Death and Deadbeat Taxpayers
Size Matters at Fan Tastic Thrift
Work Begins to Fix Up Low-Income HomesFather Turns Loss of Son Into Lessons for Others

Divorce can wither, even desiccate relations between parent and child, but by the summer of 1997, drama professor Bill Jenkins and his 16-year-old son, William, had nurtured their relationship to a fine full bloom. They hung out unobligingly, genuinely admired each other's guitar playing, and enjoyed working together on the elder's lighting and set designs for local theater productions. All was as well as could be hoped.

Until, that is, Aug. 12, 1997, when Jenkins' and his ex-wife's eldest child was murdered. It was William's second night of work at a West Broad Street fast-food franchise. The killer waited until closing; and as William exited the back door, the man forced him at gunpoint to tell the manager to open back up. When she did, the man inexplicably fired, and William died almost instantly.

It could have been merely the 17th homicide that year in Henrico County. But after a trial that ended with the killer sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Jenkins thought, "I want to do something." A chronic busybody, he started collecting and compiling the few scraps of good advice and practical instruction he could find on how to deal with traumatic loss, and outlining the lessons he himself had learned from the ordeal. He was helped and encouraged by Henrico County's victim-witness program personnel, to whom in mid-1998 he presented the first edition of "What to Do When the Police Leave."

The book filled a niche between the academic musings on grief and recovery, and the well-meaning but scattershot how-to-cope pamphlets then available. "I really felt that there was a need for something like this from the victim's perspective," he says. "Something practical and useful."

He was right. Soon other victims' programs were asking for copies of his book; at a conference he was depleted of his stock the first day. Now comes the self-published second edition, with a first printing of 6,000 and distribution through national booksellers.

"What to Do" offers a checklist for the first days of traumatic loss and easy-to-follow instructions on delegating various roles and responsibilities to family members; dealing with police and the media; undertaking funeral arrangements and legal matters; and managing grief.

Profits go to a scholarship fund in William's memory. The book can be ordered online through major booksellers such as Amazon.com and through Jenkins' Web site, www.willsworld.com, and Jenkins says the Barnes & Noble in Willow Lawn will carry it. (Large-quantity orders can be made through WBJ Press itself, at 261-7838.)

— Rob Morano

School Hopes Sign Will Return, Again

Fifteen years ago a wooden sign was crafted for St. Benedict School's annual bazaar. "Thou Shalt Have Fun," it read. The inspiring message stuck and the school chose to keep it above the Belmont Avenue entrance for good. Or so it thought.

A few years later, the sign was snatched. Surprised, but not expecting its return, principal Mary Clair Robinson decided to have another sign made to take its place. And for a while the second "Thou Shalt Have Fun" sign welcomed students and reminded them that learning should be fun. But eventually this sign was taken, too.

Then, nearly nine years later, mysteriously or miraculously, the original sign returned, unscathed and with no explanation.

Astonished and delighted, Robinson says the wooden sign nestled again where it should: arched over the Belmont doorway.

Until a few weeks ago. Sadly, the sign is missing again, and no one knows just when it was taken. "Oh my gosh, here we go again," exclaims Robinson. "It's the sentiment of the piece," she says, and not its value that makes it important. So far, no clues have turned up.

— Brandon Walters

Two Things Certain: Death and Deadbeat Taxpayers

Nobody blushes anymore. But Richmond's finance department thinks the power of shame still may be enough to collect delinquent real estate taxes from about 250 of the city's worst official deadbeats.

The department is threatening to publish the names of the tardy scofflaws if they don't cough up some cash quick. Those who don't pay (or make "appropriate arrangements," says customer-friendly City Manager Calvin Jamison) by Nov. 12 will be outed in local newspapers before Thanksgiving.

By targeting those who owe more than $5,000, the city seeks to pick up about 40 percent of $7.1 million in uncollected real estate property taxes for 1994 to 1997. In all, about $19 million is owed to the city, going back through the decades, but "these have the best chance of being collected," says city spokesman Michele Quander-Collins. Deputy Finance Director Andy Rountree says the most owed by an individual in the target group is $182,976.

The effort will proceed in spite of the resignation last week of Finance Director Al Johnson, whose two-year tenure was marked by collection problems outlined in a city auditor's report this year. (Sheila Hill-Christian, special assistant to Jamison, says the departure was a "personnel issue" and would not reveal why Johnson left.)

Bernard Wray, the city's budget chief who now also is serving as interim director of the finance department, and was formerly its deputy director for collections, says the resignation will not affect the imminent collection effort. He adds a new plan in the works for better software and systems for collecting and processing taxes will help make this an "ongoing effort."

Rountree explains the pay-up-or-be-named effort "will not stop here. We are not ignoring everyone else. It's just that their turn has not yet come."

Time mostly is on the city's side: by statute it can compel payments as many as 20 years after the taxes are due.

— R.M.

Size Matters at Fan Tastic Thrift

When VCU adjunct art professor David White entered Main Street's popular Fan Tastic Thrift store Oct. 22, he never thought he'd be asked to leave. He says he's a regular customer and frequents the store once a week. And this day, he was looking for a medium-size football. But the medium-size bag he carried like a satchel alerted the store's security guard. It had to be checked.

Between 1,000 and 2,000 people shop in the store daily. Despite surveillance equipment and a security guard, general manager Mike Crittenden says shoplifting is prevalent. It's store policy that all bags of "decent" size be checked. Bags, purses, backpacks and any item of considerable size is placed behind the counter in the Boutique section of the store, and the customer is given a ticket of receipt. When leaving the store, the customer shows the ticket and the bag is returned.

But White refused. His bag, he claims — containing cash, credit cards and prescribed medicine — was as small as some of the purses being carried by women that day in the store. White says he was discriminated against because he was a man. And when he refused to check his bag, White was asked by the store's manager to leave — and not return. Angered by what he feels is extreme reaction to an unenforced policy, White is writing a formal complaint to the ACLU.

Store manager Crittenden says if White didn't want to check his bag, he could have left it in his vehicle. And, he says, the policy is intended for all people. "More women check their bags than men," he says.

According to Crittenden, this isn't the first time the bag-checking policy has outraged customers. Women have refused to check purses before, too. But Crittenden says rules are rules. There is one rule, however, he says he's willing to bend. When asked if White would be allowed back in the store, he says, "Sure. If he's willing to check his bag."

— B.W.

Work Begins to Fix Up Low-Income Homes

Grace Arents would be impatient, but pleased. About 20 of the Oregon Hill homes the philanthropic niece of Lewis Ginter had built at the turn of the century for low-income residents finally are being renovated.

Last month bulldozers began clearing behind a dozen of the unoccupied houses on Cumberland Street to prepare for parking areas and utility work, such as enlarging natural-gas lines to the homes. Their interiors also will be renovated and the large single-family houses converted to duplexes to double the number of affordable rentals. While a smaller number of Arents' houses on Linden Street remain unaddressed, neighborhood groups are welcoming the latest development.

"I think that it will all end up being a good thing," says a cautiously optimistic Alan Townsend, executive director of the Oregon Hill Home Improvement Council. He and Kelley Lane, president of the Save Oregon Hill Organization, remain wary about the fate of the Linden Street homes, however. "Primarily, we're glad," Lane says. "It's the best I've seen in a long time but we've still got concerns."

— R.M.

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