Remembering Jerry Wayne
By Dennis Hill
Published in News on February 5, 2010 1:46 PM
Brent Bennett sings a song he wrote in memory of his late friend Jerry Wayne.
When Brent Bennett picked up his guitar Thursday night at the Relay for Life kickoff he was prepared to sing the song he had written about his late friend, Jerry Wayne. But he didn't want to.
"It's one of those bittersweet things," he said before performing at the annual Relay for Life. "I'd give anything to not have written it and to have him back."
"Jerry's Song" was written a week after the popular disc jockey died in October from cancer. Bennett told the gathering at First Pentecostal Holiness Church that he had sung it only once -- when he and his band, the Carolina Beach Club, recorded it at home.
The song, both cheerful and sad, recalled Wayne's upbeat look on life and unique personality. A portion of Thursday's kickoff was dedicated to Wayne's memory -- the relay's longtime master of ceremonies.
"People deal with grief in different ways," Bennett said. "I try to write it down on paper and then put a melody to it."
He said he and Wayne became friends when the disc jockey began playing the band's music on the air. He later helped the band obtain bookings and the two became close.
Eventually, Wayne asked Bennett to write him a song and the result was a tune called "Big Daddy's Place."
Writing a song in memory of his friend only seemed appropriate, Bennett said. He added that Frema Motors in Goldsboro and Robinson Jewelers in Greenville paid to have the song recorded and that copies of the CD on which it appears will be given away as prizes during the annual radiothon in April for the Children's Miracle Network -- a cause Wayne championed while in the booth at station WNCT 107.9.
People who pledge to give $150 throughout the year will receive a copy of the CD. After that, Bennett said, he would make the song available to any Relay group who wished to use it.
Bennett was not the only person remembering Jerry Wayne at the group's annual kickoff banquet.
After a slide show of memories of Wayne and his contributions to the Relay and his community, the crowd welcomed Anna Smith, his stepdaughter, who was there to deliver a message from her mother, Rexanne, about the man they both loved.
It was not an easy letter to read with grief so fresh. Anna spent some of the time choking back tears as she helped those gathered remember a man who his friends say had a heart as big as he was.
She read her mom's words about a love story that began 15 years ago and continued through the ups and downs of marriage and life.
She described what it was like to share Jerry Wayne with the world -- and to be the woman who would have to deal with late arrivals and postponements of plans because of the compassion and caring that were so much a part of Wayne's life.
But most importantly, she talked about a mission to help others that inspired so many and will live on in the memories of the family and friends the disc jockey left behind.
"The Jerry Wayne you heard on the radio was the Jerry Wayne we lived with every day," Anna read. "Jerry wanted to help people, and he used his career to do just that."
Rexanne wrote that it was not easy to share her husband, or to hear that he would now fight a battle that he had worked so long to make sure others did not have to face.
She said he wondered why he had been stricken and that she answered that there was no answer to the question.
She described a valiant fight and a man who was still so concerned with others that he was planning yet another benefit appearance -- from his hospital bed.
And it was that courage and compassion that Jerry Wayne's wife hopes will motivate the 2010 Relay for Life effort -- that, and a desire to eradicate the disease.
"We all have a gift God has given us to make a difference in others' lives," she wrote.
That was Jerry Wayne's most important message -- and his legacy, his family said.