August 7, 2012 was a day of homecoming. It was brought to us by one of the most gentle, decent, and kindest men who ever lived in East Texas. His name was James Reginald Bridges I, but everyone called him "Reggie."
In the 1950s and 1960s, there were many Bridges family members living at or near Herty, Texas, a small community on the east side of Lufkin. It sat in the shadow of the papermill which employed Reggie from 1976 to 2005, as it had employed many other Bridges family members for decades before.
Reggie passed away Saturday, August 4, 2012 in Lufkin at the same hospital where he was born over 54 years ago. He died of cancer which could not be treated. His funeral was at Herty Church of Christ on highway 103 East. It is the church I grew up in, the church Reggie grew up in, and the church my dad preached in for 13 years. It was where many of us attended for many years, then went on to other places, sometimes nearby, sometimes far.
Reggie's funeral did something no other event has done the past several decades: it packed the church with people. The overflow crowd filled every pew as well as the folding chairs brought out to handle the extra people. As his casket sat open in the front, the church had never been more full of life. I'm sure that must have pleased Reggie, who was likely grinning his trademark grin and watching the whole thing from above.
Reggie loved getting people together, and especially his extended Bridges family. His death and his funeral brought that extended family from miles and miles, as cousins and others made their pilgrimage back home to pay homage to a man who had charmed all of them with his sincerity and goodness for the past five decades. His wife, his children, his grand kids, his wife's family, his aunts and uncles, his cousins, his sister, his parents, his nephews, his nieces, and his friends all made the trip to show their respect for this compellingly decent and humble man.
Reggie Bridges loved the Lord. He loved his family. He loved his friends. His words best tell the story of this good man:
"I live one day at a time. I have God, family, and friends that are helping me through this. But the ones that help me the most are God and my wife, who help me through the day."
"I love my wife so much, but I hate to see her go through all she is going through. My kids are a big help. Jamie is scared of losing his dad. Bethaney is scared, too, of losing her dad. I love my kids very much. I want them to live right and do what God wants them to do."
"I love my grand kids. They keep me going a lot of times when I feel bad. To see them smile and laugh cheers me up."
"My wife is the greatest person I know. She loves me and she loves her kids and grand kids. She cares for people. She has a heart of gold because she cares for all. I love her with all my heart. I know when I go, she will be hurt but with her kids and grand kids and family around her, she will make it."
Copyright Jim Moore, 2012. Quote from Reggie Bridges' journal used by permission, however, and is owned by his beloved wife, Machele Haggerton Bridges.