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Lingering images and lyrics for outdoorsman Jerry Hill

BRADENTON — The hymns, like “The Rugged Old Cross,” were comforting.

The stories drew laughter, like the one about putting a few extra shrimp in his fishing shirt and forgetting them until they were ripe when he wore the same shirt four days later.

Yet what lingered after Tuesday night’s memorial service for Jerry Hill were those images in the video and the lyrics from that song in the hushed Church of Christ on 43rd Street.

It was “Drive,” Alan Jackson’s poignant tribute to his father and the old boat and truck he let the son drive as a boy.

The words could’ve been about Mr. Hill, who died Friday at the age of 69, and his sons, Jerry Jr., and Calvin, captured in a series of black-and-white photos as they fished Lake Okeechobee years ago.

“It was painted red and the stripe was white

It was 18 feet from the bow to stern light ...

I was king of the ocean

When Daddy let me drive . . . ”

The song was so appropriate at the service for the former Bradenton Herald outdoors writer, conservationist, Manatee County icon and devoted family man.

“First time I heard it on the radio, it reminded me of my dad,” Calvin Hill said before the service. “How he’d let my brother and I drive the boat when we were real little. Us and the boat? Top of the list when we were young. Driving the boat was big stuff.”

The photos of Mr. Hill and his boys in the boat was just one of numerous images in the moving video made by granddaughter, Krystal Hill.

Among them were those of Mr. Hill holding and feeding his two first grandchildren, Krystal and her brother, Zach.

Touchingly, Mr. Hill was on his death bed when shown a photo of his third grandchild, Calvin and Lori Hill’s first child, Abigail Rose, born Thursday.

“He held onto the very end and that’s the last thing he saw,” said Jerry Hill Jr., before the service.

John Garrott, a longtime hunting partner, looked back at Mr. Hill’s life and the positions he took as an outdoors writer on conservation issues statewide.

“Jerry was a courageous man,” he said. “He never backed down and I respect him for that.”

Mr. Hill had been in failing health for years, so Tuesday night’s memorial gave some closure to his family and friends.

“Dad’s in a better place,” Calvin Hill said. “It’s good to see a lot of old friends come by, pay their respects and share stories. Maybe even one or two I haven’t heard before.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or email him at vmannix@bradenton.com. Please include a phone number for verification.

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