Monday, November 10, 2008


They met on a blind date and took an instant liking to each other. Much of their courtship consisted of hiking in the mountains. She was three years his senior. They were married in 1949.

He became a lawyer. A lover of animals, she became a veterinarian, rather unusual for her time. Her quest for knowledge led her to take courses in forestry, icythyology, and she studied all things living. She would later give up her veterinary practice to take college-level courses in science full time.

They lived in Montana and in New York, but their love was for Western North Carolina where they always intended to retire. The couple were passionate lovers of the outdoors. When their children grew up, they traveled extensively, hiking some of the most rugged mountains in the world. They always stayed in hostels or inexpensive lodging because, as he said, "You meet so many more interesting people that way."

When they were in their 50s, he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail, from Maine to Georgia. She joined him for much of the hike and they celebrated with champagne at the end of the trail. Other hikers were delighted by her ability to identify every tree, bush, flower, etc., along the trail.

In 1990, they moved to the North Carolina mountains they loved so much. She was an avid gardener and an award-winning quilter. Their passion was hiking, especially in the lesser known trails of Pisgah National Forest. They were stewards of the land, purchasing land in their community and donating it to be a nature sanctuary.

After 58 years of marriage, they were deeply committed to one another. They continued to hike together at least once a week in all seasons. If the sun came up, they went hiking.

In October of last year, they were found to be missing. Their car was found near a trail head in Pisgah National Forest, here in Transylvania County.

A year ago, on November 9, 2007, her body was found not far from their car. He was still missing. Telephone records showed that she had made a 911 call from her cell phone, but the signal was insufficient to relay beyond the tower. Their bank card was used in nearby Tennessee. Autopsy would later show that she died of blunt force trauma to the head.

In February, 2008, the skeletal remains of his body were found on a forest service service road in upstate Georgia. He had been shot in the head.

Evidence links the senseless killing of this wonderful and loving couple to Gary Michael Hilton, who pleaded guilty in the equally senseless murder of Meredith Emerson in Georgia.

John and Irene Bryant left behind a legacy of love. Love for each other and their children, love of nature, love of the outdoors, and love of these wonderful North Carolina mountains. The entire county grieves for them still, even those of us who did not know them personally. They left the world better than they found it. We can all take a lesson from the Bryants. They are an inspiration to all.

Photographs from the Transylvania Times

Only when you drink from the river of silence
shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top,
then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your
limbs, then shall you truly dance.
Kahlil Gibran

So this post is in remembrance of John and Irene Bryant. They lived life to the fullest. At ages 80 and 84 they were still too young to die. They are no doubt singing together now and they have reached the mountain top and are dancing at this very minute.


Dog_geek said...

So sad... so maddeningly senseless. I remember following those stories in the news. I spend so much time hiking in remote wooded areas, sometimes with Mr. Geek, but more often it is just me and the dogs... stories like this really hit hard.

JPZingher said...

To understand this problem and how to stop it, you must understand it as a criminologist would. Hilton fits a crime pattern. Where you have a pattern, you can change things to break up the pattern. Hilton's pattern is commonly referred to as the "express kidnapping". His known victims all had one thing in common. He used their ATM cards. The problem is that this crime pattern is not tracked, and so, Hilton was able to get away with this for years and the police had no idea he was operating in their area. THE POLICE DO NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO SEARCH THEIR OWN RECORDS FOR SIMILAR CASES. If they did, they would have known about Hilton years earlier. It would be very easy to find this information, but it takes the state legislature to make it happen. All the police need is a master list of all ATM addresses in the state. They could overlay the crime code section for murder, rape, robbery and missing persons against that list and they instantly have all the data that is currently hidden. Contact me if you want to know more.

fishing guy said...

Carolyn: What a wondrous remembrance of these great people. why people do such a senseless thing to such nice people. Thanks for sharing their story.
This is truly when I believe in capitol punishment.

Cheryl said...

What a moving post....what amazing people......and such a terrible end.....but as you rightly say they will never be forgotten, such people never are......

I walk alone in isolated does stop and make you think.........

Lynne said...

How absurdly senseless.
Thank you Carolyn for bringing their story to us.

Tina said...

They had such a wonderful marriage and incredible life is so sad to hear their tragic ending.
It was so nice of you to create this post in their memory!..and I think you are right, they are with each other again celebrating their reaching the top!

KGMom said...

Oh so sad--the only good thing in this story is that neither outlived the other. It sounds as though dying together was the "right" ending.

Jayne said...

I remember hearing about this, but had no clue they lived in your community Carolyn. How very sad...
Like you said, they are together and hiking new trails in their eternity together. So senseless...

The Birdlady said...

Indeed, they are dancing -

NCmountainwoman said...

Dog geek - I honestly don't believe there is greater danger in hiking alone than in walking crowded streets. Sometimes horrible things happen at home as well.

jpzingher - Hilton is known to have spent quite some time in Pisgah National Forest preceding the death of the Bryants.

Fishing guy - Thanks. The two of them were so much on my mind.

Cheryl - As I mentioned before, you are at some risk every where you go. Just make certain someone knows where you are hiking and when you plan to return.

Lynne - It is senseless. Writing about it helped me cope with it.

Tina - I do believe they are together again.

Donna - I agree. They were inseparable.

Jayne - They were not actually from my community, but one very near.

Helen - I think so as well.

Shellmo said...

What a wonderful life they had - they deserved better than to have their lives ended like this. I keep praying and hoping we have less "monsters" in the world and that parents do a better job of raising their children to be kind, compassionate people who would not harm another.

Mona at Cabin and Camp said...

What a great tribute to this wonderful couple. The pictures of their smiling faces are heartbreaking, the story of their deaths horrifying, but your words bring them to life. Thank you for that.


Betty Jo said...

How wonderful and sad all at the same time. This was such a beautiful tribute to this awesome couple. I just lost my husband of almost 40 years in October, three months ago. He was my hiking partner and best friend and we spent countless hours and miles walking trails in NC and here in TN. We had hoped to hike many more years together, as this couple did. Thank you for touching my heart deeply with this post. xoxo