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Overflow crowd celebrates the life of Tommy Bryson

An overflow crowd packed the sanctuary of First Baptist Church on Saturday to remember Thomas A. “Tommy” Bryson as a living example of what it means to be a loving husband, devoted father, supportive community member and a Christian.

Three ministers and Bryson’s two sons painted a portrait of Tommy Bryson — from his baptism in the cold water of the Mills River at age 5 to the day he died — as someone who always put others first. A skilled outdoorsman, he loved camping, hunting and fishing, Carolina basketball and the Atlanta Braves and telling family stories — and most of all his wife, Lynn, his sons, his grandchildren and Jesus Christ.
The murder of Tommy Bryson, 68, on July 26 set off a huge outpouring of support for the family and a determined sense in the closeknit community of Mills River and West Henderson High School that his violent death would mark a coming together and a celebration of what his life stood for. No one mentioned the 38-year-old man charged with his kidnapping and murder.

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The Rev. John Rymer recalled knowing Tommy’s family when he first took the pulpit at Mills River Baptist Church in the mid 1950s.
When it came time to baptize the 5-year-old, “I didn’t see a baptistery anywhere in sight,” Rymer said. “All I saw was a deep, cold river and I couldn’t swim. Tommy’s father said, ‘John, don’t worry about that. I’ll be in the water with you.’ And I will never, never forget that. …
“God’s taken him home and he’s with the Lord. My life is the richer for having known Tommy Bryson. Strong commitment to the Lord. Tremendous commitment to his family. And a great asset to the Mills River community. God bless him.”

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The Rev. Paul Thompson, who pastored Mills River United Methodist Church, said he had been “more than a little angry this week.” It’s understandable that family and friends of Tommy Bryson would ask: “Am I to believe these things from a righteous God, a just God, a wise God?”
“Understand that’s it OK to ask the question,” he added, just as the Psalmist wrote and as Jesus later uttered on the cross, “My God, why hath thou forsaken me?”
The good will come from that as time passes, he said.
“We’re going to love a little more,” he said. “We’re going to embrace each other a little tighter. We’re going to find ways to spread the love of Jesus Christ into the world in more bold, profound, impactful ways.”

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Tommy Bryson’s sons, Joey and Rick Bryson, spoke emotionally and powerfully of how their father had shown them love in everything he did, from teaching them how to hunt and fish, teaching them how to break in a baseball mitt and throw a spiral.
“Rick and I talked about how we knew this day would come some day,” Joey said. “But not now.”
Joey Bryson recalled that his dad never a basketball game that he played in high school and college. When the boys were young, Tommy often said “I love you” but in later years he showed it without having to say it, “whether it was with his patented shoulder hug” or sharing stories on a hunting trip.
“There was never a doubt in my mind how much my dad loved Rick and I,” Joey said.
Once on a hunting trip in Colorado, Joey and his dad set out early in the morning on packhorses. In the distance, Tommy heard the roar of the elk.
“You hear that?” he said to Joey. “They don’t know it but the Brysons are coming.”
Whether it was hunting trips in 20-below zero cold of Quebec or helping his dad drag a 400-pound black bear down Forge Mountain, Joey recalled experiences that he would never forget, that represented his father’s love of the outdoors and of being with his sons.
When the boys got married and had children of their own, Papa, as the grandchildren called him, continued to embrace the newest ones.
“That little girl right there,” Joey said, pointing to his daughter, “is the only one that’s ever made Tommy Bryson go to a tea party.”
“My father will never be forgotten,” he said. “God is always good and he will help us through this. My father was a great man.”
Between emotional moments that caused the sons to pause or wipe away a tear cam the funny stories of Tommy Bryson’s ways.
When Carolina lost a basketball game, “Dad would kick a piece of furniture, storm out of the house and drive away,” he said. “I remember asking Mom one time, ‘Is Daddy coming back?’”
Rick felt blessed that he was able to get his dad a ticket to a Carolina basketball game and watch the Tar Heels for what would turn out to be the last time.
Both sons thanked the hundreds of people who turned out for candlelight vigil Wednesday night along N.C. 280 and thanked the Henderson County sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies and volunteers who helped in the investigation of their father’s death
“What I saw on Wednesday night, I have no words for that,” Rick said.

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The Rev. Steve Scoggins offered comfort to the family and friends of Tommy Bryson.
“I don’t believe that God caused all this to happen,” he said. But the Holy Spirit had caused everyone to seen the strength of the family’s Christian faith. “Do you realize that all we hear about is dysfunctional homes and broken homes. And now what God has done is put on display here’s a family that loves each other. Here’s a daddy that’s been a daddy to his boys. It’s almost like God said, ‘We’re so confused about what family is, I want to remind y’all what family is.’”
Scoggins urged the mourners to think about what the community had seen in the past two weeks.
“Yes, we’ve seen evil on display,” he said. “Folks, let me tell you this, haven’t we seen good on display? Haven’t we seen people love each other, stand by by each other, pray for each other? Wow. The devil didn’t win. God’s winning. And we can rejoice in that.”