Panola County Sheriff David Bryan was remembered Monday morning as a faithful friend and father, a caring boss and a protector of the innocent.
"A prince has died," former First Baptist Church pastor Dr. Robert Self told an overflow crowd of family, friends and law enforcement officers who had gathered for the service at First Baptist.
Self told of his 32-year friendship with Bryan, bringing laughter to the somber crowd when he recalled trying to talk the eight-term sheriff out of running for office 30 years ago.
"I said, ‘I think you’re crazy,’ and David said, ‘I’m serious.’ I’m glad he didn’t take my advice," Self said.
Bryan passed away at his Batesville home Saturday morning, April 23, after battling colon cancer. He was 65.
The 10 a.m. funeral service was held in the sanctuary of the downtown church, where the sheriff and former high school coach once served as a deacon.
Burial was at Orwood Cemetery, where Bryan’s father, Joel Bryan, is buried.
Sheriff’s Department cruisers from Panola and DeSoto County led the funeral procession to the grave site, which is located in Lafayette County just east of the Panola County line.
The cemetery is a quarter-mile from where Sheriff Bryan was born, according to his mother, Jo Bryan.
A pair of DeSoto County helicopters buzzed over the Downtown Square, looking down at a blue light procession of police, sheriff’s department and highway patrol cruisers.
The funeral procession departed downtown Batesville beneath an enormous American flag, hoisted above the railroad tracks by vehicles of the Batesville Fire Department.
At the graveside service, Dr. Gary Berry led with an opening prayer. The words of "Amazing Grace" then blended with the wail of bag pipes.
Also at the grave site, a DeSoto honor guard fired a 21-gun salute, a DeSoto deputy played "Taps," and the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Department helicopters performed a flyover.
DeSoto County Chief Deputy Charlie Brown said 30 DeSoto officers, including himself and Sheriff James Riley, attended the services for Bryan.
"We were honored to be down there today," Brown said. "Sheriff Bryan and Sheriff Riley were close friends, and Sheriff Bryan was always a big help and a big friend to us."
At the church service, First Baptist pastor Dr. Gregory Johnston read from St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy, comparing Bryan to the New Testament apostle and writer.
Reading from the fourth chapter of Timothy, where Paul is imprisoned in Rome, Johnston noted that Paul wrote of his departure after he had "fought the good fight" and "kept the faith."
"Paul was ready for his departure," Johnson said, "and David was ready for his departure."
Speaking before Johnston, Self recalled Sheriff Bryan’s broken spirit when he lost a deputy, Joe Cosby, in the line of duty.
Self said he and Bryan talked "way into the night" after Cosby’s passing, and the pastor listened as the long-time sheriff shared his heart.
"He loved you and cared for you. He was concerned about what happened in your life," Self told the deputies, who were seated among the front rows of the sanctuary.
Self described Bryan as a "prince" to his family, community and church, borrowing the words from King David’s description of military commander Abner.
The verse in 2 Samuel reads, "Do you not realize that a prince and a great man has fallen in Israel today?"
Musical selections at the church service for Bryan included "You Raise Me Up," "God of Our Fathers," "It is Well With My soul," and "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," which was sung a capella by Bryan’s niece, Angie Bryan Cantrell.
As organist Mary Nell Smith played "Onward Christian Soldiers," deputies and staff of the Panola County Sheriff’s Department filed out the front doors of the church.
Sheriff Bryan’s family followed, led by Panola deputies who were carrying the sheriff’s flag-draped coffin.
As more than 200 law enforcement officers watched, the flag-draped coffin was hoisted into a white hearse.