Inspiration sprung from depths of despair

Malibu resident Kathy Eldon’s story of her son’s death, and the resulting activism to produce a positive force from the tragedy, inspires attendees of the fundraising Sack Lunch Series.

By Homaira Shifa / Special to The Malibu Times

She talked about her son, Dan Eldon, a photojournalist and artist who, along with three other photojournalists, was stoned to death at the age of 22 in Somalia.

“I started tearing the curtains down,” Kathy Eldon said, describing the moment she received the phone call about her son’s death. “I was so angry. My son, this beautiful boy, had been killed. My life was shattered.”

Eldon was speaking to a group of people who had gathered last week Tuesday at a Malibu mountaintop retreat for the second Sack Lunch Series wherein women in positions of leadership and influence are invited to speak about their experiences. Malibu resident Christine Griffiths created the idea of the series to help raise money and support for the Venice Family Clinic, the largest free clinic in the nation.

Griffiths said the goal of the Sack Lunch Series is to empower individuals and their leadership and to help find inspiration through the stories of women who are making a difference in the world around them.

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Eldon, a local Malibu resident, has written 17 books, is an award winning lecturer, writer, activist, journalist, and television and film producer.

In her early career, she worked as a journalist and writer in Kenya. While in Africa, she learned to describe her life as a safari.

“Safari just means a journey… into the unknown,” Eldon said. “Safari became a real adventure, how I live my life.”

The death of her son changed her life.

Dan Eldon was one of the first and youngest photojournalists to cover the famine in Somalia, and raised worldwide awareness of the catastrophe through his photographs. He was covering the conflict in Somalia in 1993 for Reuters News Agency when he was asked by Somali locals to photograph the carnage and destruction allegedly caused by U.N. Peacekeeping Forces’ mistaken bombing of what it believed to be the house of a warlord. On his way there, as he rushed through the streets of Mogadishu, Eldon and the three other photojournalists were stoned to death by an angry mob.

Instead of focusing on anger, Kathy Eldon was determined to transform the horror of his death into a positive force for good.

“Unless you let go of any knot of anger,” Eldon said. “You can’t get very far in life.”

She moved to Hollywood and began her career as a film and television producer in an effort to catalyze people to achieve their potential for themselves and for the world.

“I focused on creating films that would bring awareness to journalists’ role in peace and war,” Eldon said. “Very few people realized the role journalists play and the risks they face in telling important stories.”

She produced “Dying to Tell the Story,” a documentary narrated by her daughter Amy, who takes viewers on a personal journey to find meaning in the death of her older brother Dan. This Emmy-nominated documentary studied the motivations of journalists dedicated enough to risk their lives for a story.

Also working with Amy, Eldon started Creative Visions Foundations, a company dedicated to using the power of media to help people achieve their potential for themselves and the world through films, lectures, workshops and books.

“The goal of the foundation is to support creative activists and to help them transform an idea into action,” Eldon said. “If there is something you really want to achieve or tackle, we help out, either financially, if that’s what you need, or by just providing a structure to help you transform your idea.”

While running the foundation, Eldon met and married Michael Bedner, founder of the hospitality design firm Hirsch Bedner Associates, in Malibu. Amy married Bedner’s next-door neighbor, film director and producer Jon Turteltaub.

With the confluence of family with film experience, Eldon is working on producing a feature film called “Journey,” based on her son’s life, executive produced by her son-in-law Turteltaub. Julia Roberts and Daniel Radcliffe (“Harry Potter”) are set to star in the film.

The idea for the movie sprung from the book, “The Journey is the Destination,” that Kathy Eldon had put together in 1997, composed of photographs, collages, drawings, weathered maps, stamps, comic book heroes and newspaper clippings from her son’s journal reflecting his upbringing in Kenya and young adult life in New York and Somalia. It was picked up by Chronicle Books and has sold more than 100,000 copies.

Eldon is also producing “Extraordinary Moms,” a series with Roberts about the power of mothers to transform the world, which will air on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

After Eldon finished speaking during the event last week, the attendees were welcomed to share their stories.

“Inspirational” and “motivational” were the two words used to describe Eldon as she spoke to a captivated crowd.

Sandy Corradetti of Sherman Oaks had a child who was born with heart disease and died at a young age. She said she found inspiration to move on with her life from the documentary that Eldon and her daughter made about Dan’s life.

“I could hear her voice in my head and breathing life into me,” Corradetti said. “There is a woman out there who knows what we’ve gone through. We’re not alone anymore.”

Malibu resident Lynne Daniels was very emotional after hearing Eldon speak.

“Too see someone [who] is so positive,” Daniels said. “She wasn’t in denial. She took that energy and utilized it. It was very motivational.”

Although donations are still coming in, $6,810 has been raised so far for the Venice Family Clinic. The clinic was founded in 1970 and today serves more than 24,000 patients with primary health care, specialty care, dental care, mental health services, health education and child development services, as well as public insurance enrollment. The clinic is open to low-income men, women, children, teens, and seniors who lack private health insurance.

The Sack Lunch Series is open to anyone who is interested. They can bring their own lunch or have the one provided for a small cost. More information can be found at www.sacklunchseries.com

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