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Community bids farewell
Summerlin is laid to rest
The Rev. Thurman Echols gives a eulogy for the late Benny Summerlin, whose casket is in front of the stage in the Bassett High School auditorium. Members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors are seated on the stage at right.
Benny Summerlin’s “final call” was at 3:50 Saturday afternoon, shortly before his burial.
A series of tones were heard on the area’s emergency radio frequencies. Then a dispatcher said, “This is in recognition of 39 years of dedicated service to Henry County.”
Summerlin was a founding and a lifetime member of the Axton Lifesaving Crew, the dispatcher said.
“We respectfully honor our fallen comrade with this, his final call,” the dispatcher said. “Thank you, Benny, for a job well done.”
Summerlin, 53, also the Henry County administrator and general manager of the county’s Public Service Authority, died Wednesday at his Axton home after battling cancer for the past 20 months.
But his service to the county began nearly 40 years earlier when he joined a rescue squad at the age of 14.
A 21-gun salute and Taps were heard at Roselawn Burial Park, and Henry County Sheriff Lane Perry presented the flag from Summerlin’s casket to his wife, Robin Summerlin.
Butch Gatewood, manager of Norris Funeral Services, said honors at the burial park were conducted by the Henry County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard, the Henry County Emergency Services Honor Guard and the Martinsville-Henry County Veterans Honor Guard.
Summerlin’s funeral was held Saturday afternoon at Bassett High School. His final ride en route to Roselawn Burial Park passed by area fire companies’ vehicles and ladder trucks, some with flying U.S. flags, along Kings Mountain Road, the Henry County Administration Complex and the entrance to the burial park. Other emergency vehicles were parked in the median along the route.
Still other vehicles also stopped along the road for the estimated 20-minute procession that included 115 vehicles.
Gatewood noted that more than 500 people attended the funeral, and an estimated 400 went to Summerlin’s visitation on Friday at the funeral home. The community as a whole “showed so much support for his family,” Gatewood added.
In addition to the emergency vehicles along Kings Mountain Road, many others were in the procession, which slowed again near the cemetery entrance in recognition of another flag draped from a ladder truck.
Mourners nearly filled the Bassett High School auditorium to pay their last respects to Summerlin, who had a reputation of putting the area’s needs above his own. Members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors joined the speakers on the stage.
The Rev. Thurman Echols opened the “Service of Remembrance” by reading Psalms 61:1-4 and 2 Timothy 4:6-8.
The latter verse states in part, “ ... the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” Echols read, before tributes to Summerlin were given by Deputy County Administrator Tim Hall and Henry County Sheriff’s Lt. Col. Steve Eanes.
Hall quipped that when he first looked at the program, “my first thought was ‘that’s a lot of words. My second thought was Benny did not type this.’”
Typing was not one of Summerlin’s strong points, Hall said, and noted that Summerlin often answered emails with a single word. “‘OK,’ or if he was really agitated, ‘Yes,’” Hall said.
After recounting other incidents, Hall said, “I learned a lot of lessons from Benny Summerlin,” including the ability to treat people the same “no matter who they are in life.”
Eanes, who had been friends with Summerlin for more than three decades, prefaced his remarks by saying they were “the toughest thing I’ve ever written.”
Titled “Benny’s Dash,” Eanes’ remarks were about the “little space between his birth and his death. We all are blessed to have known Benny.”
Eanes said he knew Summerlin loved life, his family and friends, and “was dedicated to this community.”
Among the principles that Summerlin valued and used were: “Do things because it is the right thing to do; business is business and personal is personal; realizing your organization is only as good as the people that you lead,” Eanes said.
“Benny lived those things every day,” Eanes said. “...I will miss Benny every single day.”
He also challenged the county staff to “continue providing high quality service ... Benny would expect that from you.”
Eanes told Summerlin’s family that they shared a “very special treasure” with the community. “As for me,” he said, “I must take comfort in knowing that heaven gained an angel Wednesday night instead of me losing a dear friend.”
Allison Moore presented musical selections, and Rich Puckett read a poem.
Echols’ message was titled “Benny Was A Good Man,” and a main point of the message was that “it’s not how long you live, but how well you live.”
Summerlin did not live “a long life of years, but he did live a quality life,” Echols said. He noted that Summerlin was not “a drum major” in that he never wanted recognition for his efforts.
“A mighty oak has fallen Wednesday night when Benny went home to live with the Lord,” Echols said. “I believe Benny served his generation well, and on Wednesday night, he just fell asleep. ... Sleep on, Benny. Take your rest. We loved you, Benny, but God loved you best.”