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Bill Kirby Jr.: Brenda Wilson ‘loved doing life,’ preacher says


A daughter stood tall and solemn on this day of a mother’s life celebrated and remembered.

“My mother was just as beautiful on the inside,” Heather Wilson Tuttle would tell those Thursday who gathered at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in remembrance of Brenda Heath Wilson. “I am thankful to my mother for teaching me grace, and always believing in me.”

The moment was poignant.

A daughter’s words were heartfelt and would resonate throughout the sanctuary.

“I thought Mom would live into her 90s,” she would say.

Brenda Heath grew up in the white wood frame house in Eastover on Old Dunn Road long before the stoplight came along. She was the second of three daughters and a son born to the late John F. Heath and Katie Heath.

“It was just a normal childhood,” sister Betty Heath Moore says of what was a quiet and simple life in the 1950s and the 1960s. “We played in the streets. It was a good time to grow up. Brenda was a girlie girl.”

She liked her hair curls and hair bows. She liked playing house. And later paling around with friends to include Kay Fussel, Janice McLaurin, Joyce Bland, Sue Ellen Smith, Marilyn Matthews, Linda Peoples and Betty McCorquodle at old Central High School, class of 1965, and later with friends to include Peggy McDonald and Elaine Folino.

Sundays were for worship just down Interstate 95 at Second Baptist Church in Fayetteville. Wednesdays, too.

Brenda Heath was personable. She was vivacious. She had crystal blue eyes and a smile brighter than the sun breaking over a morning dew. She liked to dance the jitterbug and the “Carolina shag.”

“The kids would go dance to tunes blasting from a jukebox,” the Rev. Bruce Herrmann would say. “Gary was 17 and noticed 15-year-old Brenda and asked her to dance.”

Together, they would dance for a lifetime. He would hold her close. She would hold him dear.

Miss Fayetteville 1966

Gary Wilson first would have to share Brenda Heath with all of us, the country girl crowned Miss Fayetteville 1966 at the old Fayetteville High School auditorium. She was elegant in her pageant gown and could walk a runway with confidence. She tap-danced to the "Alexander Ragtime Band,'' replete with her long tuxedo tails, white shorts, cane and tip of her top hat that dazzled the pageant judges. She would win the swimsuit competition in the Miss North Carolina Scholarship Pageant.

She loved the beauty pageants, and Miss Rhododendron and Miss Apple Blossom would become her many crowns.

“Following her and cheering her on,” Moore says, “was exciting for us as it was for her.”

Gary Wilson took Brenda Heath as his bride on Oct. 23, 1967.

“For Gary, he knew from the moment he met Brenda she would be the love of his life,” the preacher would say. “The love of a lifetime. The love that he wanted to commit himself to. In his own words, ‘Brenda’s the only woman he’s ever loved.’”

The couple would raise a daughter and a son.

“Heath and Heather couldn’t have asked for a more supportive, loving mother to raise them and to love them,” the preacher would say. “It meant the world for Heather to hear the words of her Mom, ‘I believe in you,’ and offer her words of encouragement. For Heath, he knew he could always trust his Mom as his confidant. As long as I’ve known Gary, he’s sung Brenda’s praise, recognizing her as a gift from God to love and care for, and also God’s gift to care for and love him.”

Brenda Wilson found her niche as a cosmetologist at the little shop on Raeford Road where she coiffed the hair of loyal customers, including older ladies there to “have their hair fixed,” brides-about-to-be, young girls readying for the junior-senior prom and beauty pageant contestants. And in 2008, Queen Noor of Jordan sat in Brenda Wilson’s beauty shop chair.

“She loved her work,” the preacher would say. “It was her passion. Her experiences with pageants and cosmetology provided her the opportunity to hone her skills with hair, makeup, posture, walking and accessories. She loved to share her giftedness with aspiring beauty queens. Many of ‘her’ girls actually won a crown. She also saved the day for many a bride and bridesmaids.”

Every day was a blessing, the preacher would say, in Brenda Wilson’s life.

“When she walked out of the house, she was ready to meet the world,” Herrmann would say. “Hair, makeup, clothes, shoes, accessories, and the smile. That all-important smile that provided the avenue for her inner beauty to shine and brighten your day. She loved doing life with you whether she was holding scissors, holding cards, holding a fork, holding a hymnal or holding your hand. She loved spending time with you.”

And how Brenda Wilson adored those six grandchildren in her retirement years as only a grandmother could.

‘This horrible illness’

Primary progressive aphasia is a cruel disease.

It can affect your ability to speak, to remember, and eventually take away your motor skills.

“During this horrible illness, she endured,” the preacher would say. “Her trust and faith in her God never faltered. She’s known his blessings and rested in him through the tough times. She knew her earthly blessings, and the blessings that awaited her in heaven far exceeded the struggles of the last years.

“She was a strong woman of faith who feared the Lord, meaning she stood in awe of who he was as creator of the world … the one who gifted her with this life and a savior in Jesus Christ. Brenda’s faith molded her into the person we loved, admired and could make us laugh. Her faith guided her to treat you the way she wanted to be treated and loved. She praised her Lord. Even in those times she could barely utter a word, she sang.”

Brenda Heath Wilson died Aug. 29, her family by her side. She was 75.

“She loved,” Betty Moore says, “and she knew she was loved.”

In the last of her years, there were trips to Betty Moore’s farm in Wade, where Brenda Wilson loved the landscape and being with sister Phyllis Highsmith and brother Johnny Heath in what was Brenda Wilson’s “happy place” on those tender Wednesday afternoons.

“She was bigger than life,” Phyllis Highsmith says. “She had a spirit. She was my hero. She paved the way for me when we were little and teenagers. She was my protector. I was her biggest fan, and she was mine. She taught me how to dance and to do my makeup. She gave me confidence. She made me want to be a better person. She had so many wonderful qualities. Behind all that beauty and poise and gracefulness, she could go from that beauty-queen smile to a Hee-Haw moment. I am so grateful to God who chose her to be my sister.”


A daughter stood tall and solemn on this day of a mother’s life celebrated and remembered.

“I thought Mom would live into her 90s,” Heather Wilson Tuttle would tell us. “She fought so hard until the end. ‘Because You Loved Me’ the song came on the other day. It sums up how I feel about her. ‘You were my strength … I’m everything I am because you loved me.’”

There would be no last farewell.

“I’m not saying goodbye, Mom,” a daughter would say. “I’m saying I’ll see you later.”

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

Column, Bill Kirby Jr., Brenda Heath Wilson