Originally published February 21, 2008
Note: The legendary Johnny Weaver died on February 15, 2008 - - eight years ago today. The following article was originally written for the "Johnny Weaver Blog" website following his death.
Funerals are never fun to attend. But there was something uplifting about what took place at Johnny Weaver’s funeral. That was due largely to the honest and moving words delivered by two who eulogized him, and the grace of a grieving daughter still wounded by the sudden and unexpected loss of her father.
Johnny Weaver was buried yesterday in Forest Lawn East Cemetery in Mathews NC. Ironically, he was buried less than 15 yards from where another legend of wrestling was laid to rest 16 years ago, his friend Gene Anderson.
I had never been in a funeral procession for someone in law enforcement before. One of the lasting memories I will have of that day was topping each hill on the way to graveside and seeing stretched out before me a line of seemingly endless patrol cars with blue lights flashing, slowing winding through Mecklenburg County, on their way to see Johnny laid to rest. It was a jolting reminder that a brotherhood of officers had lost one of their own. And they were there in force to say goodbye.
Many in the wrestling community had come to say goodbye to Johnny as well, great names in the business spanning generations, much like Johnny’s long career had touched so many generations of wrestling fans. Those that were there either at the family visitation or the funeral included wrestlers Ivan Koloff, Abe Jacobs, Sandy Scott, Don and Wally Kernodle, Rene Goulet, Nikita Koloff, Tony Romano, Bill White, Jim Nelson, Belle Starr, Jim Holiday, Rick McCord, George South, and Mike Weddle. Also present were wrestling broadcasters Bob Caudle and Rich Landrum, referees Tommy Young and Stu Schwartz, and a member of the family that ran wrestling in the Mid-Atlantic territory for over 50 years, Jackie Crockett. There were certainly others who I didn’t know or did not recognize or I may have forgotten. I apologize to them for not including them here. And of course, one of the biggest names ever in the business was there, supporting her daughter and her family, the gracious Penny Banner.
As most of you know, Johnny’s career in the wrestling business ended about the same time Ted Turner bought the Crockett family wrestling business. Faced with a forced career change, with his priorities now on benefits and securing a pension, something the wrestling business had never provided, at 53 years of age he became the oldest ever rookie in the Mecklenburg County Sherriff’s Department. But as his Captain later told us, he was tougher, stronger, and in better shape than some officers half his age.
And Wendi Weaver; what a warm and gracious lady, clearly devastated by the sudden loss of her father, yet greeting everyone after the burial with heartfelt thanks and hugs and that same warm smile that was her father’s.
It was an emotional day for everyone: for the family of course; for those officers who had worked with Johnny for 19 years at the Mecklenburg County Sherriff’s Department; for the wrestlers, several of whom had wrestled with and against Johnny in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling since back in the 1960s; and for friends, some life-long and others like me that, similar to Don Kernodle had loved Johnny long before they had the privilege to call him a friend.
Back in November of last year, just a little over three months ago, Johnny and I sang “Turn Out The Lights, the Party’s Over” together at a surprise birthday party several of us had thrown for him. It is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life. And just as Captain Smith had also alluded to as he said goodbye to Johnny, the lights are now dark, but the light that Johnny brought to all our lives will shine brightly forever.