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A crowning moment in the long goodbye

'Dad and I had the best talks,’ a daughter would say about spending time with her father in the final months and days of Gary Wilson’s life. ‘I wouldn’t trade them for anything.’


Call it the celebration of life of the long goodbye.

He would have embraced this day when a daughter would tell us he was the father who “was my hero,” and when we would be reminded that every grandchild, a grandfather would assure, could be everything they ever wanted to be along life’s way.

“Gary was a member of this church for over 40 years,” the Rev. Blake Benge said Tuesday at a memorial service for Gary Wilson at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church. “He loved being a part of his Sunday school class and he loved to worship here. His faith was an important part of his life. He loved this place and the people in this place.”

You could sense Gary Wilson’s presence throughout this sanctuary. You could see him in his double-breast navy blazer, his hair perfectly coiffed. You could feel his comfort in knowing that members of the Light House Sunday school class were gathered together. You could only imagine the pride he would have had in knowing a daughter and a grandson would fulfill their promises to tell the stories of Gary Wilson’s life.

“Dad grew up on the little street of Rock Avenue,” Heather Wilson Tuttle would say. “He was raised by Rossie Barnwell” — his grandmother — “who he adored. He never knew his dad, but he was the best dad I ever knew. He was my person. He was my hero. The one thing I learned from my dad … it was to be present in my life and my brother’s life.”

Teaching a daughter and a son to follow in the footsteps “of a carpenter” and being there for his children and later his grandchildren were the hallmarks of his life.

“I’m forever grateful for the lessons my dad taught me,” a daughter said.

Grandson Dallas Wilson would remember lessons, too.

“He said, ‘Life is not always going to be sunshine,” he recalled a conversation with his grandfather in the last days of Gary’s Wilson’s life. “He was lying in bed with very few days left. I needed to ask one piece of advice. He said, ‘Put your troubles in God’s hands.’ For the long years my Nana was sick, it was painful for him to watch. But granddaddy was by her side until the day she died. He is the husband, father and grandfather I want to be like.”

Mrs. Rossie and 2116 Rock Ave.

Gary Wilson and his twin brother Jerry Wilson grew up in the little frame home at 2116 Rock Ave. that backed up to old Fayetteville High School, and under the watchful eyes their grandmother Rossie Barnwell.

They loved athletics, and perhaps baseball most of all. The brothers would spend their youth playing football, softball and basketball with Frank Maynard and George Breece in Oscar and Eleanor Brinson’s backyard along nearby Woodrow Avenue. The twins would play in the Little League baseball games at Honeycutt Park and later on the FHS baseball field in 1963 that overlooked Miss Rossie’s home.

The twins were popular with schoolmates.

They were personable, with charming ways.

They were good to look upon in later years with their colorful cashmere sweaters, and where the crease in Gary Wilson’s trousers had to be just right.

“Gary loved his brother Jerry,” the preacher would say. “They were a prime example of the unique bond that can exist between twins. Friends, teammates and brothers. If people knew Gary, they knew Jerry. They were closer than brothers.”

Gary Wilson found the love of his life at the old Lakewood pavilion when he asked Brenda Heath, the girl from Eastover, to dance. She would become Miss Fayetteville 1966. They would marry Oct. 23, 1967.

She was his Barbie, the girl of his dreams. He was her Ken.

“Gary loved his wife, Brenda,” the Rev. Benge would say. “Her beauty captured him and never let him go.”

He was with her until Brenda Heath Wilson’s death at age 75 on Aug. 29, 2022. His brother, Jerry, died at age 75 on Nov. 3, 2020.

“I met Gary less than a year ago,” the Rev. Benge said. “I met Gary as a man who was loving and living life. But he was not at the top of his game. He battled sickness and won time after time, but now he was weary. And, when we became friends, he was living in the wake of terrible loss. He had lost his sister-in-law, Jerry’ wife, Scottie. And Jerry, and lost his beauty queen, Brenda.”

‘I am not afraid’

He found solace with old high school friends to include Jimmy Byrd, Bill Vurnakes, Wayne Byrd, Jack McGinley, Greg Chrisafis, Howard Satisky, Doug Polk and Richard Alligood. He enjoyed spending time at his daughter’s Wake County home and coming to know Gail Simpson, the widow from North Myrtle Beach, who made and took time to listen and care. 

“They became the greatest of companions spending time with one another,” Heather Wilson Tuttle would say. “Although you never married, Gail, you were there for him for better or worse.”

Gary Wilson knew the prostate cancer of 18 months was taking his life, and the end was near. 

“I’m not afraid,” he told close friends. “I just hate the process.”

Gary David Wilson died March 28 at his home.

He was 79.

“Gary Wilson loved life, and he lived a very good one,” the preacher would tell us on this day of celebration and farewell. “He loved his family and friends. He loved God and his church. Beginning with his grandmother, Mrs. Barnhill, he would always give her credit for the person he became and the opportunities he had in this life. And while we are here to honor Gary, he would have us honor her.”


You could sense Gary Wilson’s presence throughout this sanctuary.

A daughter and a grandson would assure us of Gary Wilson’s presence in their heartfelt words and memories.

“Dad and I had the best talks,” Heather Wilson Tuttle would tell us of a father’s final months and days. “He was my hero. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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