Tragedy comes quickly and changes our lives. Back in December my best friend, Photographer John Wilson, with whom I had worked for 33 years, died in a house fire. I got the call at 5 in the morning and rushed to the hospital to be with his wife, Harriett who'd been in another part of the building and survived, barely. She was unable to organize a memorial service so my wife and I did most of it. I invited a few friends and people that had known John for a long time to speak. One of those was Vince Gill, because through the years John and I had been around him often, mostly at golfing events. Vince liked John, as I did, because he was the salt of the earth.
John was born 100 years too late. He was a cowboy out of the old west, caught in a modern world. He owned a small ranch and a number of horse that he rode daily. He didn't like rookies. He'd tell you the truth, he was always on time and he was faithful. We started working together in 1974 and never stopped. I asked John to become our full time sports photographer in 1978, even though he didn't really care much about "stick and ball" sports. He'd rather cover a rodeo. But he was a brilliant photographer in a game where you couldn't afford to be in the wrong spot or you ran the risk of missing the winning touchdown or basket. He was dynamite under pressure.
John was also tough as a strap. I'll always remember when Dale Earnhardt Sr. was killed in the Daytona 500 in 2000, John and I were in Charlotte, North Carolina for his memorial service two days later. We were doing live reports back to Nashville starting at 5am that day in the cold, wind and sleet. In between reports, I would go into the satellite truck to write additional scripts, but John stood outside, with a weather proof sheet covering his camera from 5am until noon. Like a bull in a rainstrom, he refused to leave his post and jeopardize his equipment. That was John. He lived the character of a man and didn't just talk about it.
But I had never really known who he had affected Vince. A couple of years ago we were going to video tape a segment with Vince after he finished playing in a golf tournament so we were out there shooting some extra video of him on the course. Well, Vince skulled a chip shot on one hole and proceeded to chunk his next shot, all of which John caught on camera. Vince, a kind hearted, wonderful man, is also very competitive. He walked past John and somewhat sarcastically quipped, "I suppose you're going to show that on TV tonight". Vince told that story at John's Memorial, but what I didn't know was that John had walked over to Vince, put his hand on his shoulder and said, "No Vince, you know I wouldn't do that, you're a friend". With tears in his eyes at the memorial, Vince said "I was humbled by a good man" and then sang that powerful song "High on That Mountain", for his friend John.
We all will leave a legacy behind, but we can not pass on something that isn't a part of us. That isn't authentic. If character, honesty, integrity, compassion and faith aren't a part of our lives, we can not pass that on to our children or the people that God puts in our path on lives way.
John Wilson left behind a powerful legacy as he rode off into that golden sunset. I will miss my friend.