From the heart

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 20, 2004

Up until last Saturday, I didn’t know Gary Warren all that well. Now I feel I’ve known him for all my life.

Gary Finton Warren passed from this Earth on Thursday, Nov. 11 at Halifax Regional Medical Center. He was 52 years young.

Gary and I attended Northampton County High School (now Northampton-East) at the same time. He was one year older, graduating from &uot;Ram Country&uot; in 1970. They gave me a diploma (mind you, I said &uot;gave&uot; me one, not awarded one) one year later.

Looking back, I can’t say that Gary and I were schoolhouse buddies. He had his friends; I had mine. I do, however, remember his brother, Donald, very well. Donald was one year younger than I and we, on occasion, ran with the same bunch in school.

A couple of years ago, I was reintroduced to Gary. He and my cousin – Debby Johnson, who I grew up with in the Ashley’s Grove/Pinetops community in Northampton County – had begun dating. Debby had been a widow (way too young to fall in that category) for a quite a while when she and Gary launched their relationship.

I remember very well the day Debby performed that introduction. We were standing under the big shade tree on a hot July day during the annual Woodland Volunteer Fire Department’s Shrimp Feast. With a gleam in her eye, she introduced Gary as her &uot;friend.&uot; Gary beamed a broad smile when he shook my hand. I knew then and there that this relationship would blossom into something very special.

On Saturday, Nov. 6, 2004, Debra Johnson and Gary Finton Warren were married during a small, private ceremony at Debby’s home in Jackson. Two souls, wandering aimlessly in different directions for so many years, were united. The world was good.

Or was it?

One week later, Debby walked down the aisle of Meherrin Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, a grieving widow for the second time in her young life. That thought alone – one of sorrow for not only my cousin, but a person I consider a true friend – had me on the verge of standing inside that church and screaming, &uot;why must she go through this again?&uot;

My heart broke for Debby. As the service wore on, it also grieved for Gary’s loving family.

Rev. Billy Sellers and Rev. David Ross jointly performed perhaps the most compassionate funeral service I have ever witnessed. I should know a thing or two about compassionate funerals because I’ve already help to bury my father and mother this year.

But yet Gary’s service was unique in its own right. It was more like Gary was there, eulogizing himself. It was a warm, uplifting service dedicated to those who knew this man the best – his family and friends. Gary Warren had plenty of both.

In addition to Debby, he left to this world his mother, two brothers, a sister and five children along with a small army of friends. The old Meherrin Church was packed to the rafters, a tribute to the numerous lives touched by Gary Warren.

For those in attendance who didn’t know Gary that well, we were led on a near 60-minute ride through history.

We learned that Gary – due to a divorce that robbed him of spending special moments with his kids – loved his children very deeply, and his offspring returned that affection.

We were informed that his friends were numerous. He shared some of that same love of family with his friends, and they loved him right back. His pallbearers were his golfing buddies at Valley Pine Country Club.

We became fully aware that Gary poured his heart and soul into his job as an accountant at Severn Peanut Company. That company was extremely appreciative of his professional work ethic.

But the most fitting tribute to Gary came through the reading of several letters, written by family members to help them cope with their loss. Those words were written straight from the heart, with love and admiration of a man whose life was celebrated in great range, from his profound sense of humor to his ability to serve as a good father, husband, son, brother and uncle.

Who is Gary Warren? Now I know. He’s a man that, despite only a half-century of walking upon this earth, had the knack to have never met a stranger, and we’re all better for that fact. He’s a man that, although dealt a losing hand in the poker game of life, tossed in what few chips he had left and held his head high and proud.

I left that funeral with a sense that a little bit of Gary Warren is inside my heart. For the good of a world seemingly going off the deep end, let’s hope that a little Gary Warren is within all of us.