Elmer Gene Bryant was a storyteller. He liked nothing better than holding court with friends and family while regaling tales that made everyone laugh and cry. His own life story is certainly worthy of recounting.
Gene’s life began on March 10, 1943. He finished his race two days before his 51st wedding anniversary Friday, Nov. 30, 2018.
He was preceded in death by parents, Horace L. Bryant and Nora Taylor Bryant; brothers Paul Bryant, Jim Bryant, Mark Bryant and Charlie Bryant; and a sister, Elda Bryant Hensley.
Many family and friends remain behind to honor his memory. He is survived by the love of his life, wife Bessie Mason Bryant. Once, early in their marriage, Bessie declared she was leaving. Gene packed a bag and said he loved her so much he would just go with her. Bessie realized Gene was a keeper, and she stayed.
Gene was adored by his children: a daughter, Sandy West (husband Danny); a son, Randy Bryant (wife Jeana). Devin and Brayden West were more than his grandsons; they counted their papaw as their best friend. Gene relished in his grandsons with rough housing and practical jokes, fishing and flea marketing. In May, Gene was so proud to watch Brayden give the valedictorian speech as he graduated high school. In October, Gene was able to stand with Devin while performing his marriage ceremony to his own true love, Kyndra.
Gene often spoke of his special adopted granddaughter, Hannah Thacker. He is also survived by sister, Burdell Bryant Church, of Concord.
In his life, Gene enjoyed a range of jobs, duties and offices. He served on the Macon County Board of Education, and as an official who married many couples.
He loved his church family and went to Rowland’s Creek Baptist Church every time the doors were open, and for some time while there also served as Sunday school superintendent.
He built clutches, worked for Asheville Paving, worked at Magnavox, and served as a mailman. He worked and retired from the Asheville Citizen-Times as a district manager. He managed a fleet of sno-kone trucks that brought happiness to thousands of children on many hot summer days.
Perhaps his favorite job of all was working at the “Nantahala Walmart,” aka the recycling center, where he was able to enjoy his favorite hobby of looking for treasure.
One of his most lovable qualities was his way of giving nicknames to everyone. His friends will remember that he often ignored their given names for titles like Tobe, Dithers, Catechism, Drybones and Spider. His nicknames were badges of honor and often stuck because it helped flavor the rest of our world with some of Gene’s humor and spirit.
Gene loved flea markets and had a passion for collecting anything and trading for everything. He never met a stranger he didn’t talk to or try to trade with.
Everyone who knows Gene will remember he was celebrated for amassing things. It was a common understanding that “if you needed something, Gene Bryant either had it or knew where to find it.” Objects that many people discarded as junk, Gene would pick up and bring home. He had a special way of looking at everything – it was never junk to him. He always saw the potential in all creation – nothing was junk – just things waiting to find their purpose. He always saw the value instead of deficiency.
His optimistic view wasn’t limited to the things found at flea markets, junkyards and the “Nantahala Walmart.” He also saw the same kind of potential and good in people. Even in people who were like the abandoned items he salvaged; even if they appeared to have no good or worth left in them. Gene always said good things, saw the best and professed hope for the others everyone else had given up on.
It was his mission to show them God. He was always asking others if they knew the Lord, trying to find a glimmer of worth or treasure somewhere in that person’s heart, despite their reputation, behavior or history.
Gene’s decency and humbleness in this respect made him the rare find, a treasure among men. He lived his life as a shining Christian example and although he loved collecting “stuff,” it will be his collection of friends and family that is the most lasting testament to his life.
Gene Bryant’s final days were indicative of a man who engineered a life well spent. Although he will be sorely missed, his final chapter should be read as a happy ending.
He spent his last week surrounded by a parade of friends and family who made the pilgrimage to Harris Community Hospital to see him before he shed the earthly house of this tabernacle.
The last moments of his story could not have been more beautiful. Those moments were spent peacefully, accompanied by his sweet wife and daughter quietly singing his favorite hymns while leaning in closely so he could hear them. He drifted into eternity to meet his Lord and Savior in the best possible way.
Although his body was failing and modern medicine could not intervene, Gene had already secured his eternity 60 years ago by taking the Lord Jesus Christ as his Savior. Gene’s family rests in the certainty that this husband, father and papaw was collected by God to join God’s own assortment of priceless things.
No one realized it at the time, but goodbyes were always important to Gene. When leaving his own parents house, he would say, “Love ’em,” meaning instructing his own children to love on their grandparents one at a time, the regular ritual of saying goodbye before they walked out the door.
Gene was conscious of the ceremony of leaving. Every night he loved on his children, and as Sandy said, he wanted to hear her say, “Good Night Daddy – Love You – Sweet Dreams ‘Sweep’ Tight.”
When Gene would prepare to leave after a visit to a neighbor or relative, he would say, “All youns come and go with us.” And if we could hear him right now, that is probably what he is saying to us, inviting us to follow him into the Kingdom.
Funeral services were held at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at Rowland’s Creek Baptist Church with the Revs. Kenny Ball, Jim Postell and Dana Dockery officiating. The interment was at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Aquone Community Cemetery. Pallbearers were Devin and Brayden West, Fred Guffey, Mike and Doug Bryant, and Kenny Cope.
The family received friends from 5-6:45 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at Rowland’s Creek Baptist Church.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made in memory of the Rev. Gene Bryant to: Aquone Community Cemetery Fund, 71 Old School Road, Topton, NC 28781.
Ivie Funeral Home, Andrew, was in charge of all arrangements.
An online guest register is available at www.iviefuneralhomeinc.com.