Kathy’s life has been, and continues to be, one of reinvention and transformation. Leaving behind her conservative Iowa roots, Kathy graduated from Wellesley College, married an Englishman and moved to London. Ten years later, with her husband and two children, she flew to Kenya where she entered a tumultuous and exciting world as a journalist and writer in an emerging new nation. In 1988 she returned to London to begin a new career as the head of Creative Visions Productions, committed to making social impact entertainment. The tragic death in 1993 of Kathy’s son Dan, a 22-year-old Reuters’ photojournalist, stoned to death in Somalia, was to change her life again. Aware that her very survival depended upon transforming the horror of Dan’s death into a force for good, she moved to Hollywood, hoping to convince a studio to take on a feature about Dan’s life. Although relieved when she and her 22-year old daughter managed to produce an Emmy-nominated documentary, “Dying to tell the Story,” about journalists at risk, she was determined to make a feature—a mission that would take 23 years (“The Journey is the Destination,” a film about Dan’s life, is now available on Netflix.) Realizing how difficult it is to create social impact media, Kathy and Amy launched Creative Visions Foundation in 1998 to support creative activists like Dan who use media and the arts to ignite positive change.
Now two decades later, CVF has incubated more than 400 projects and productions on five continents, impacting more than 100 million people. Kathy, who has authored 17 books, including “In the Heart of Life,” a memoir about her colorful life, is a popular speaker, and continues to write books, while playing an active role Creative Visions, located in the Dan Eldon Center for Creative Activism in Malibu. Kathy lives next door with her husband, renown hospitality designer Michael Bedner.
My daughter Amy has always been a peacemaker, bringing people together through kind words and actions. Perhaps that was because of a warning given to her when she was a little girl by William, who helped us in our house in Nairobi, Kenya. Upset that Amy had been rude to him, he reprimanded her sternly, saying “toads will come out of your mouth if you say bad things!”
Just after Amy’s 19th birthday, her beloved brother Dan was killed in Somalia where he was working as a Reuters photojournalist. Grief-stricken, Amy dropped out of college for a while, then enrolled at Boston University to study communications. Unlike Dan, who had been a war photographer, she wanted to be a peace correspondent.
I moved to West Hollywood, determined to transform the horror of Dan’s death into something that could inspire others by making a feature film about young war correspondents. But despite our determined efforts to be positive, profound anguish enveloped both of us. A continent apart, we tried our best to prop each other up, but one day I would fall apart on the phone, and the next day she would call me in tears.
When she confessed that memories of her brother were fading, I encouraged her to fill a book with funny stories about their adventures together, including photos of Dan, letters and the many drawings he had sent her. A few months later, Amy’s face glowed when she showed me the bulging journal she had created. We thought the concept might help those who had lost someone they loved and were thrilled when Chronicle Books published Angel Catcher: A Journal of Loss and Remembrance. We were especially happy to understand that channeling our pain into a creative project for others helped us find new joy and meaning in our own lives.
Although my attempt to make a feature film in Hollywood about Dan and his friends wasn’t going anywhere, a documentary that Amy conceived of that profiled frontline journalists was green-lit by Turner Broadcast – and my 21-year-old daughter traveled to seven countries as the host of Dying to Tell the Story, which was nominated for an Emmy! The project, which led to a film career for both of us, confirmed how powerful it is to try to transform pain into purpose.
In 1998, Amy and I launched Creative Visions Foundation to support other “creative activists” like Dan who use art, music, dance, drama or film to share solutions to critical issues. But we didn’t have a clever solution to our biggest challenge – finding the right partners. So, we wrote Love Catcher: A Journal to Bring More Love into Your Life. It sounds like a fairy tale, but soon afterward, I met the answer to my dreams, Michael Bedner, a talented architect/designer who was living on a beach in Malibu – next to a film director named Jon Turteltaub, who was the answer to Amy’s! Amy married Jon, and a few years later, Michael and I tied the knot on the same beach, with his children and ours – and two grandchildren cheering us on.
Amy still lives next door with Jon, their sons Jack and Daniel, and long-awaited daughter, Arabella. We work together at the nearby Dan Eldon Center for Creative Activism, home of Creative Visions, and a vibrant hub of energized people who believe they have the power to change the world around them.
Amy remains my greatest inspiration, best friend and most accurate critic. Together we have learned the truth of Federico Fellini’s saying, “there is no ending, no beginning, only the infinite passion of life.”
At an early age, Dan was curious about the world around him, eager to connect and communicate with others. When he was seven, Dan and his three-year-old sister Amy, moved with my husband Mike and I to Nairobi, where Dan became part of a diverse “global tribe” of kids from 42 countries at the International School of Kenya. We all savored the adventures our family had on safari across Africa, as well as during our bi-annual treks around the world enroute to my home town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, or to London, where Mike had grown up.
In a country lacking many social services, Kenyans had to devise imaginative solutions to the many challenges they faced. As a young journalist, I loved writing about these creative, active individuals, and often invited Dan along to take photos for my articles.
Inspired by their inventiveness, Dan began to take on problems he saw in the world around him. To raise funds, he threw wild parties for his friends in our backyard. We couldn’t protest because they were a “good cause.” Next, he helped a Masai woman sell hand-beaded jewelry to earn school fees for her seven children, which meant all of us were be-decked with colorful Masai jewelry. At the age of 19, Dan led a group of 15 teens on a rollicking seven-week journey across Africa to bring aid to a refugee camp in Malawi. When he was 21, he flew with a young Reuters correspondent into Somalia to record evidence of a little-known famine. His harrowing photos of starving Somalis helped trigger an international aid mission – and a passionate desire in Dan to use his photography to tell stories that could ignite action. Instead of returning to UCLA that autumn, Dan traveled in and out of Somalia over the next year, records its chaotic spiral into civil war.
On the day he was due to fly home, Dan, instead, grabbed his camera and raced to the site of a terrible bombing by the United States’ forces on a house where it was reported that a Somali warlord was hiding. Tragically, the warlord wasn’t present, but several hundred innocent people were killed or wounded in the attack. When Dan and his colleagues, urged by desperate survivors, began to photograph the carnage, enraged victims beat and stoned the journalists to death. Dan was 22.
Although for many years, my heart was broken, Now, more than two decades later, I think of Dan with joy, for his noisy, vibrant spirit has touched the lives of individuals around the world – through our foundation, dedicated to his memory, but mostly through his journals, captured in a series of four illustrated books, several documentaries and a feature film, The Journey is the Destination, produced by Kweku Mandela, grandson of Nelson Mandela. Directed by Bronwen Hughes, The Journey is the Destination, shares the story of Dan Eldon and the ever-changing global tribe of curious, creative young people around him, who were seeking – and communicating – solutions to the challenges they saw in the world around them, in the hopes that others might respond.