SEBRING — It has been six months since the death of Deputy Sheriff William J. Gentry Jr. and family, friends and his fellow deputies continue to work through the process of grief.
They all took another step forward Wednesday with the dedication of his name plaque on the memorial stone in front of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.
His brother, School Resource Deputy Kevin Gentry, helped Sheriff Paul Blackman unveil the stone with his brother’s name plate, touching the name plate with his right hand before rejoining his family, seated off to the side.
Kevin Gentry said what he missed most was his brother’s tendency to be a “smart aleck,” as in always joking with people.
“If you didn’t know where you stood with him, then you didn’t really know him,” Kevin Gentry said. “He let you know where you stood.”
While unveiling the stone, Blackman accidentally stood in a fire ant mound and got bit, which drew swift pesticide retribution from a Sheriff’s Office member.
Kevin Gentry said that was just the kind of thing that’s been happening since his brother died. For example, he and others from his brother’s pool cue business went to Tallahassee over the weekend for a billiards suppliers’ conference, and it rained all weekend.
“He hated the rain,” Kevin Gentry said.
He said his brother would also have avoided the fuss being made over him now, with a plaque on a memorial.
It was announced last week that Gentry, through tissue and organ donations, had helped a record number of patients.
Gentry died May 7, 2018, reportedly shot by Joseph Edward Ables, 69, of Lake Placid. Gentry was talking with him about a neighbor dispute involving a cat when Ables shot Gentry.
His name joined the names of Capt. Robert Hopton and Inspector William Rogers, who died more than 20 years ago, on July 19, 1995, in a plane crash. Their names rest on a large granite boulder set on the front plaza of the Sheriff’s Office.
Blackman said it symbolizes the heavy burden of protecting the public, the size of the loss of each person named there and a permanency, that they be remembered.
“We prayed that the day would never come when we had to add another name beneath theirs,” Blackman said at the Wednesday morning ceremony. “Unfortunately, this is why we are here today.”
They had all lost another brother six months ago, to the day, said Blackman, who added that the healing process for all who knew and loved Deputy Sheriff Gentry is not complete.
“Not a day goes by that we do not think of him,” Blackman said.
Kevin Gentry said one of his family members who has missed “Uncle William” terribly has been Jaelyn Harrison, their 3-year-old niece. She has wanted to call Uncle William, he said, and when told he’s gone to Heaven, she’s asked for the family to take a couple of days of vacation to visit him.
Every time a Sheriff’s Office Ford Explorer drives by the house, she wonders why Uncle William hasn’t stopped by. Kevin Gentry said his brother would often stop by to play. She’d have her kitchen play set prepared and would “fix lunch” for Uncle William with toy food.
Her father, Jonathan Harrison, said he recently sat down to play “lunch” with her, and she handed him a “lunch,” but told him not to touch another she’d fixed.
“That’s for Uncle William,” she told him.
It was William Gentry’s birthday last Saturday. He would have been 41. Kevin Gentry’s birthday is today (Thursday).
On Saturday, Harrison said his daughter drew a picture for Uncle William and bought him a birthday balloon. With no other way to mail it to Heaven, they tied the picture to the balloon and let it go into the sky.
Liz Fischer, victims’ advocate, was on hand Wednesday with Stella, a 1-year-old therapy K9 trained by Brevard County Jail inmates. Jaelyn had to pet Stella, who then turned around, with wagging tail, and kissed both Jaelyn and her dad.