It is always tough receiving that phone call. You know the call I mean, the one where someone you know has departed their earthly shell. That was an understatement Tuesday night as I was preparing to eat my weight in tacos. I looked down and saw an old friend calling, I figured he wanted to talk sports or politics but sadly he bore the worst of news. The news that Jerry Cross had passed away. After collecting myself and calling to tell my grandmother the news, which was devastating to her as our family friendship with the Cross family is generational, I tried to decide what sort of tribute to Jerry. It was surprisingly more difficult than I thought not because of lack of material but because of the multitude of materiel I could write about Jerry.
We have to start with Jerry the politician. It is what the vast majority of folks knew him for. That is not a bad thing as he served our county and many others in the Tennessee House of Representatives for more years than I can count. He served our county and state well in that capacity especially our park system. Of course he was also County Mayor for six years. But beyond all that he was a mentor and wise council for numerous office seekers and holders throughout his years. I know many folks that serve or have served the City of Caryville that will gladly tell you what Jerry meant to them.
Jerry was also a Vietnam Veteran. Now for the most part this war was before my time. At least before my clear memory. But I do know it was a very difficult time in our national history. Like so many of his generation Jerry went to Southeast Asia and fought a war that so many failed to understand back home. I know he carried numerous scars from his time as a warrior. I also know this helped round him out as a leader.
Many folks also knew Jerry as a regular in the “Liars Bench” at iconic Caryville greasy spoon Scotty’s. Despite the unsavory name of the bench it was actually a collection of local treasures in the verbal history department. Want to know the local goings on or local tales head to Scotty’s and sit near the bench. They would educate you quickly.
Of course Jerry was important to me on a personal level. As I have pointed out our families have a generational friendship. Years ago I ran for school board and lost. But along the way Jerry, who I would invariably run into at Scotty’s or the post office, would check on me and offer advice. Some advice I took to heart, some I kinda blew off as mid 20’s Pat was not always the wisest decision maker. When I ran for Alderman of Caryville last year I would invariably run into Jerry at Scotty’s or the post office (pattern?). Jerry would check on my campaign strategy and offer advice. Much older than mid 20’s Pat sucked in every iota of his advice and have it mentally filed for all future campaigning.
But here is the side of Jerry that will be missed the most that so few of us got to see. My last long conversation with Jerry was at the Caryville Public Library Harry Potter event. Jerry was there with his great grandson Drew. Their interaction was the stuff I envy. It was pure affection on the grand parental level (thus hard to quantify in words). Jerry and I had a light, fun conversation that day. A little politics were thrown in for good measure. But seeing he and Drew interact was priceless.
You see sometimes we forget our legendary figures are actual human beings. Sometimes we only see their public personas. But right there I was reminded that Jerry Cross was a human being and a darn fine one at that. Now Jerry is gone in body. But he will always be with us in spirit. When I go to the Scotty’s or the post office I will have to simply remember Jerry fondly. Jerry is truly our own Caryville legend now and we will always remember him as such.