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THE LIVE OAK TREE: Jack Norris Tinsley died far too young.
by BEN TINSLEY
Aug 28, 2014 | 360 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Ben Tinsley's mother, Anne Miller Tinsley, dispenses cake to his first cousin, Jack Norris Tinsley, in 1969.
Ben Tinsley's mother, Anne Miller Tinsley, dispenses cake to his first cousin, Jack Norris Tinsley, in 1969.
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Jack Norris Tinsley, left, and his wife Linda, right, shortly after his double lung transplant. Contributed photo.
Jack Norris Tinsley, left, and his wife Linda, right, shortly after his double lung transplant. Contributed photo.
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HUNTINGTON, Texas — Early in the Twentieth century, deep in the heart of East Texas there was a small, small (now extinct) town named Ewing. There, my paternal grandparents Henry and Sally Tinsley worked diligently during the Great Depression to raise a family under very limited, meager, conditions.

When the town of Ewing folded (as Depression towns were known to do back then), the Tinsley family packed up and moved to Huntington in nearby Angelina County.

This family unit included my late Uncle Carver, who later moved out of state and eventually became a respected Indiana clergyman. There was my late Aunt Sue, who eventually worked in food service, married and settled in Jasper. There also was my Uncle Lamar, who would stay in Huntington and enjoy a very distinguished run as mayor of that town.

The youngest of the lot was my father, Jack B. Tinsley, who went on to become a journalist. Dad eventually moved to Fort Worth, and would work for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for the bulk of journalism career -- a span of nearly 40 years.

Jack Norris Tinsley, one of my Uncle Lamar’s children, was born October 12, 1957. (I was born in January 1967.) Jack Norris, from what I understand, was partially named after my father.

Had you met Jack Norris, you definitely would have liked him. He was the quintessential “boy next door” -- blonde, broad-shouldered, incredibly friendly and loving.

Jack Norris lived in Huntington virtually all his life, working at the Paper Mill in nearby Lufkin and most recently as a millwright for Mead West Vaco in Evadale.

For the most part, Jack Norris has always been part of the tapestry of my life. He has always there with a smile, an appreciation for his fellow man, and a willingness to help anyone. A truly supportive spirit, he was just a good guy in general.

In the published words of his family, Jack Norris “loved life and celebrated it every day.” Jack, incidentally, taught me how to dribble a basketball when I was quite young.

I fondly remember Jack Norris and my Uncle Lamar taking and my dad hunting in East Texas back when I was a kid. (As we trod through the woods, I would always stick close to Jack Norris’ side, where I felt safest.)

What I really liked about my first cousin was the respect he would show me -- even though I was a child at the time because of our age difference. Jack was always happy and very willing to explain the world to me from his perspective.

I’m pretty sure we had different world views. Mine were borne in urban Fort Worth, north central Texas, and Jack’s came from Huntington -- that amazing place of pine cone and red clay. Man’s man, territory.

But the lessons Jack taught me were fairly universal. There was so much to learn from him about confidence, friendliness and straight-forwardness.

Really, I liked the whole idea of Jack -- that All American, smiling, positive family man who loved his parents, adored his children and spread so much positive energy around the world.

In the words of his wife Linda, Jack “was a man among men.”

He was strong, not just physical strength but spiritual and mental. If you were his friend, you knew it. If he loved you, it didn’t go without saying.

“He had the most positive attitude of anyone I have ever, or ever will know,” Jack’s wife said.

Jack, Linda said, was brave and had a strong faith in God.

“He was a wonderful father and loved his girls, and he loved my children like his own,” Linda wrote in one Facebook post. “I know without a doubt that I was the love of his life, and he mine, we didn’t let that go without saying even though we could have. He gave me the five happiest years of my life, I will cherish them forever.

“Even if I had known how it would end, I wouldn’t have missed one single second of our life together.”

A few months back, I learned for the first time that Jack suffered from a rare genetic disorder called “alpha 1antitrypsin deficiency” which causes severe Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It was a major concern to me at the time because I also suffer from COPD.

The most serious part of this revelation was that Jack’s condition had deteriorated to the point where he needed a lung transplant.

But first, Jack had to be put on a waiting list. The procedure cost a loooootttttt of money. SO much money that his friends and family held fundraisers.

And, afterward, Jack was unable to attend those fundraisers because he was struggling with the anti-tissue-rejection medicine doctors gave him.

The lung transplant was expected to add years to his life. But, ultimately, it didn’t.

Jack died. In late July. Born to my Aunt Clauda and Uncle Lamar October 12, 1957 in Lufkin, he passed away July 30, 2014 at his residence.

It’s so tragic and unfair to happen to someone as wonderful as my first cousin -- someone who had so very much going for him.

“He was an avid outdoorsman who loved nature and all God’s gifts,” family members said. “But mostly he loved his Linda, the love of his life, and his girls, Jessica, Lauren, Grace and Rachel. He brought a sense of fun to every gathering and was greatly loved by all who knew him. His brilliant trademark smile will be missed.”

Jack’s death was preceded by other tragedy in his family. My Aunt Clauda and Uncle Lamar both died before Jack did. And so did my cousin Brooke, who was killed in a tragic car accident in 2002.

But it wasn’t all tragedy. There were such beautiful, amazing parts to my cousin’s life. Probably the most beautiful part of Jack’s life story, in my opinion, was his marriage to his one true love, Linda.

These two met and fell in love later in life, but their time together was so loving, so poignant. It makes me happy to know they had been together even for a relatively short period of time.

I wish nothing but the best for Linda. From what I know of her, she is very, very strong. But she just lost the love of her life. And he was one of the greatest people you could ever know.

I can only hope Linda finds peace.

My cousin’s widow occasionally posts messages to Jack on Facebook.

“I planted a live oak tree today baby in memory of you,” Linda wrote the other day. “It hurts to use the word ‘memory.’ I miss you honey and will love and honor you always. Tim and Beverly Johnson gave me the tree and it’s right across from the cypress tree you and I planted after we got married, our mockingbird is still there every morning.”

Jack Norris Tinsley will not soon be forgotten. The positive impact he made on others is humbling.

When I first learned that Jack was gone it was like a slap to the face. I still can’t yet wrap my mind around the fact that he’s gone.

I miss Jack. I truly grieve his death.

But I also celebrate Jack’s life. I can’t help but think how much poorer my existence would have been had I never met him.

And what brings me the most comfort is the knowledge that Jack Norris and Linda will one day see each other again.

Ben Tinsley is a reporter for The Progress newspaper in Three Rivers. He can be contacted by email at theprogress@mysoutex.com or by phone at 361-786-3022. Tinsley can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenTinsley, Google at http://plus.google.com/+BenTinsley or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ben.tinsley.12.

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