By BRAD KEITH
STEPHENVILLE (December 23, 2016) — Lee Roy Gaitan was with Tommy Bryant when the two of them decided to go into law enforcement, while a woman amongst the crowd at the candlelight vigil honoring the late sheriff of Erath County remembers Bryant “saving her life.”
Gaitan and the woman, who seemed to represent the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lives impacted by Bryant during and even before his 20 years as sheriff of the rural county, were among the dozens to come out for the vigil a day after funeral services for the sheriff, who met his end of watch late Monday in his home.
As candles lit the faces of those both mourning their loss and celebrating the life of service lived by Bryant, Gaitan and the woman were among three speakers who shared what Bryant meant to them.
“I can honestly say Tommy Bryant is one of the best men I’ve ever been around,” said county precinct two constable Lee Roy Gaitan, who worked alongside Bryant and became good friends with him before the two decided to attend police academy three decades ago. “He always had my back, he was that kind of man. He was not about Tommy Bryant, he was about everybody else.”
Bryant is survived by his wife, Donnie, and son, Tom Allen, who were among those at the vigil. They stood with close friends and heard how their husband and father helped one local woman turn her life around.
“I’ve been sober and clean six years because Tommy took the time to work with me and instead of sending me to jail he sent me to get the help I needed,” said the woman, who did not state her name. “And when a guy wouldn’t leave me alone and tried to send me right back into the same mess (Bryant) helped me clean up, (Bryant) stopped it. Prayers to the family and thank you to Tommy.”
A school classmate of Bryant’s, who also did not state his name, said the late sheriff was his doubles partner in tennis and played football with him as a full back.
“He was a hell of an athlete,” the man stated. “You sure wanted him as your friend because you sure didn’t want to make him mad, but he always had a fair heart.”
The vigil was organized by John Forson and followers of his Erath County Breaking News Facebook Page, Charles Faulkner and wife, and Jody Caudle of Texas Homegrown Radio, who deejayed music, emceed the event and broadcast it live.
Bryant was elected sheriff in 1997 and defeated two Republican challengers to win re-election last May. Matt Coates has been named interim sheriff by Erath County Commissioners.