A peaceful farewell: The happiness of the Gilley family could not be disguised
By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — An hour into the memorial service Friday afternoon for the Gilley family, Matthew Bready stopped his remarks and the large crowd filling Omwake-Dearborn Chapel at Catawba College became even quieter.
The chapel’s bells were marking the hour.
A toll each for David, Christine, Grace and Jack.
“That was peaceful,” Bready said before going back to a eulogy for his friend and colleague David Gilley.
David, his wife, Christine, and their children, Grace and Jack, were killed in an April 13 traffic accident in West Virginia. A southbound tractor-trailer crossed the median on Interstate 77 near Camp Creek and struck their northbound SUV.
Residents of Rowan County, the Gilleys were heading to Irondale, Ohio, to visit Christine’s parents during the kids’ spring break from school. Grace, 13, was a seventh-grader at Salisbury Academy; Jack, 10, a fourth-grader at Bostian Elementary School.
Tommy Poarch, an elder and evangelist at Concord Church of Christ where the Gilleys attended, said God gives answers sometimes, but not all the answers.
“I do not feel God took this family from you and me,” he told the audience near the end of the two-hour service. “A terrible accident did.”
Think of all the things a family does together, and you will get a good picture of the Gilleys. David was 48; Christine, 42. They had been married almost 15 years.
The large family contingent, work colleagues, school and church friends couldn’t help but tear up as scores of pictures of the family smiling, kissing, hugging, being goofy, playing it cool and hamming it up flashed before them, played on a big projection screen with recorded music in the background.
The Gilleys were swimming, snorkeling, surfing and sledding together. There they were at Disney World, Great Wolf Lodge, the Washington Monument, at a ballgame and on the beach.
The pictures showed David and Christine’s wedding, her pregnancies, the family pets, the kids as babies — Grace being a big sister and Jack being the little brother.
The Gilley kids were on tricycles, then bicycles. They were dressed for Halloween or sudsing up as infants and playing in the bathtub.
The family went on balloon rides, celebrated birthdays, enjoyed slushies and staying at grandma’s house.
Cameras had captured their quiet moments, too, when Grace and Jack were reading together on a bed, or when David was just giving Grace a big squeeze.
The family’s happiness could not be disguised. And though the tragedy of the accident is hard to shake, people who spoke about the Gilleys on Friday shared many of the funny stories for which the Gilleys were the root cause.
“Think about the joy, think about the laughter they brought into your life,” evangelist Adam Jones said during the celebration service.
Kristy Wheeler Scott, a friend of Christine’s since junior high and their big-hair days, said the women had an impromptu girls’ weekend a couple of months ago. She could see things were going well for the family.
“They were in such a good place,” Scott said. “You could just tell how happy everyone was. There was just that balance.”
Though the accident is a tragedy hard to process, Scott added, “I’m so thankful they went to heaven together.”
Scott said their lesson to everyone was their generosity, kindness and how they treated people. It was the kind of message shared often Friday.
Ryan Jackson, a friend of David’s for more than 30 years, played matchmaker of sorts for the couple more than 17 years ago, and he played a major role in planning the memorial service.
“David and I were close, as close as brothers,” Jackson said.
Grace was a good singer and artist. She competed on a swim team and played soccer. She loved macaroni and cheese, even without the cheese. Just recently, Grace had asked Jackson to show her a few things about volleyball.
“They were an active family,” Jackson said, knowing he was understating things.
Scott said Grace “was the best-dressed little girl out of the womb,” besides being a performer and singer, who was well on her way to being successful in life.
Nicole Warden Le, Christine’s sister, said her niece’s death meant she would be missing the chance to vote for Grace as the nation’s first woman president.
Jack also was on a competitive swim team in Concord, and “he was getting good,” Jackson said.
Jackson recalled how his daughter Kate said she planned to marry Jack, just because of how kind he was. The boy, who was president of his fourth-grade class, loved to read and dance, and Jackson remembered him recently inventing a game of “dance tag.”
Scott said Jack was easy-going and gentle like his father. As a child, peanut butter and Ritz crackers were the only thing Jack would eat, and the family traveled everywhere with those foodstuffs in tow.
David Gilley, who spent many years in Florida before moving to North Carolina, had a degree in biology from the University of North Florida. He came from a large family of eight children. His father died in 1985 when he was still a teen and living at home.
An older brother, Jessie Gilley, said he taught David how to play chess in grammar school. “My ego suffered when I fell victim to his ingenuously designed traps,” Jessie said.
David Gilley started his own landscaping company after college and “knew the Latin word for every plant,” Jessie said. The older brother said he was always amazed at the skills his brother possessed and how he made work and life fun.
David set a good example as a father and husband and in living a Christ-centered life, Jessie said.
Before his death, David Gilley had become a senior project manager for the TIAA investment firm, and many of his colleagues attended Friday’s service.
Bready read message after message from TIAA co-workers who spoke glowingly of Gilley. Bready said he was a beloved friend and Christian brother who always wanted to know his co-workers on a personal level.
A person could hear the smile in Gilley’s voice during a conference call, Bready said, and he described him as a person who entered people’s lives gently and stayed there.
Many people are struggling with the holes left by the loss of the Gilleys, Bready said, “and it will be difficult to move forward without them.”
Scott said David’s easy-going nature was a perfect balance to Christine’s Type A personality. He had to follow a gluten-free diet, but he lived for a certain brand of pizza not available to him in North Carolina.
Scott smiled in mentioning how David also was a bad planner of family outings.
David Gilley also had the patience of a saint in waiting for the usual hour-and-a-half for Christine to get ready when they were going out. Scott said he had the process down to an exact science.
Christine Gilley grew up in northern Virginia, was a lifeguard in the summer, and graduated with a business administration and accounting degree from Mary Washington College. She was a senior manager for Accenture.
Christine also was a dedicated member of Crossfit Vitality in Concord.
Scott said her longtime friend had a keen sense of personal style and could have easily been an interior decorator. She was happy with a People or In Style magazine or a good book and “was always up with the latest trend,” Scott said.
Christine was strong, independent and always trying to add pops of color to Scott’s wardrobe.
“She absolutely was the best gift-giver ever,” Scott said.
A dish towel Christine gave to Scott said, “One friend can change your whole life.”
“And she did that for me,” Scott said.
Le and Christine’s brother, Doug Warden, spoke together about their big sister. As kids, Christine was always the smartest and always loved by her teachers, they said.
Doug said she often coerced him into making prank calls to her former boyfriends.
Steve Pinkerton, co-owner of Crossfit Vitality, said Christine was the only person who liked his long beard. She was the most determined, coachable person he had ever been around, Pinkerton said, and she always was late to class.
Pinkerton said with a tragedy such as this, there seems to be two paths. One continually asks questions such as what if and why, and there are no simple answers.
The other path believes God had a bigger plan for the Gilleys and realized they were needed someplace else, Pinkerton said.
Poarch, the church elder and preacher, said the true answer the Bible can give in the face of this terrible loss is the hope of the Resurrection.
It’s natural to ask things, such as what if the Gilleys had just lingered somewhere with their cups of coffee 15 or 30 seconds longer that day of the accident?
“You can’t go there; you just can’t go there,” Poarch said. “We have been doing a lot of praying, and we need to do a lot more.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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