SARASOTA — Rosedale Golf & Country Club PGA Professional Mike Clayton always knew his oldest son, Kyle, was special.
He was the type of person whose smile lit up the room. He was the type of person who took the time to get to know everyone he met.
But it wasn’t until he was reading his son’s Facebook page a few days after Kyle died tragically May 16 that Mike realized just how many lives his son had touched.
“I always knew he was a great kid, but unfortunately this tragedy showed just how many lives he touched,” Mike said. “He had 600 friends on Facebook, and the majority of them sent really (heartfelt) entries about how infectious his smile was and how caring he was toward other people.”
The morning of May 16 began like any other for Mike and his wife, Sandy.
The couple went to church before Mike left for work and Sandy to Longboat Key for a walk on the beach.
Sandy returned home and began reading the newspaper, enjoying a peaceful Sunday at home. But shortly after she settled down, Sandy was interrupted by a knock at the door — a knock that would turn her world upside down.
A Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office deputy informed her that her son, Kyle, had died earlier that morning due to accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Kyle was just 28 years old.
“That was so hard,” Sandy said of hearing the news. “Then (from that point on) it was like a dream.”
Within a few hours, the Claytons began to receive an outpouring of love from family, friends and colleagues — some of whom traveled from as far away as Alaska, Colorado and Minnesota to be with the family.
A memorial service was held May 19. Kyle, who is survived by his parents, his brother, Tyler, 26 and his sister, Casey, 20, was laid to rest May 20.
Following the funeral, family and friends wrote down one thing they planned to do to make the world a better place in honor of Kyle and placed them into a box for the family.
Then Mike and Sandy and their family headed outside with the hearse and prepared to wave good-bye.
“It’s a custom in my family that you wave good-bye until you can’t see it anymore,” Sandy said with tears in her eyes. “That was very cool. Kyle always loved that.”
Growing up, Kyle was quite the athlete — something he carried with him into his adult life.
He played football, basketball and baseball, but it was on the golf course where he felt most at home.
“From the time he was little, he loved to play golf,” Sandy said.
When he was 6 years old, Kyle began going to work in the summer with his father, who was the PGA Professional at University Park Country Club at the time. And by the time he was 9, Kyle became an honorary member of the University Park Ladies Golf Club, spending much of his time out on the course with the members.
His mother fondly recalled a time when she dropped her young son off at the Bobby Jones Golf Complex in Sarasota for a day of golfing. When she returned later that afternoon, she was approached by an 80-year-old man who recounted how nice her son was and how Kyle had spent the entire day with him out on the course.
“Kyle was the type of person who took the time to listen and care about you,” Sandy said. “He cared about (everyone) and he made sure that you knew it.”
Kyle went on to play golf on a partial scholarship at Florida Gulf Coast University for two-and-one-half years, graduating with a degree in marketing and hospitality.
In the days leading up to his death, Kyle was his usual self. He spent his days working for Lexjet, a digital printing company in Sarasota, and in the evenings, he would head out to the golf course with colleagues, go surfing and wakeskating, or spend time with his family and friends.
The day before he died, Kyle competed in the relay portion of the Florida International Triathlon on Siesta Key with some of his co-workers. He had plans to compete in several more triathlons, but although he didn’t get a chance to fulfill all of his future endeavors, the Claytons know their son managed to live a rich life in a short amount of time.
“We have a very strong faith, and we believe this was (God’s) plan, so we’re doing our best and going along with it,” Sandy said. “His legacy is kindness and caring about his fellow man. If that goes on, then he’ll have lived more in 28 years than I will have in 88 years.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].