They met on a blind date and took an instant liking to each other. Much of their courtship consisted of hiking in the mountains of North Carolina. She was three years his senior, a fact that brought many laughs in years to come. They were married in 1949.
He became a lawyer. A lover of animals, she became a veterinarian, rather unusual for her time. Her continued quest for knowlege 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 with her ability to identify every tree, every bush, every flower along the trail.
In 1990 they moved to the North Carolina mountains they loved so much.
She was a avid gardener and an award-winning quilter. Their passion was hiking, especially the lesser known trails in Pisgah National Forest. They were stewards of the land, purchasing land in their community and donating it to be a nature preserve.
After 58 years of marriage they were deeply committed to one another. They continued to hike together...she in her 80s, he almost 80 at least once a week. If the sun came up, they went hiking.
In 2007 they were found to be missing. Their car was found near a trail head here in Transylvania County. In November, 2007 her body was found near the trail. 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. Irene Bryant had died of blunt force trauma to the head and her husband John was still missing.
In February 2008 the remains of John Bryant were discovered near on a forest service road in upstate Georgia. He had been shot in the head.
Evidence links the senseless killing of this wonderful and devoted couple to Gary Michael Hilton who pleaded guilty to an equally senseless murder of Meredith Emerson in Georgia.
This post is not about the killer. It's not even about justice. There can be no real justice for such heinous actions. This post is about two of my heroes...John and Irene Bryant.
They left behind a legacy of love. Love for each other, their children, their fellow man, and the future. Love of nature, love of the outdoors, and love of these wonderful North Carolina mountains. They are together once again, and for them we still grieve. They left the world better than they found it. Take a lesson from John and Irene Bryant. Live life to the fullest and give back to nature and humankind.