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
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.
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.