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Sunday, April 11, 2021
<p>Stuart Bishop, 17, poses for a photo in his football uniform.</p>

Stuart Bishop, 17, poses for a photo in his football uniform.

WILLISTON -- Stuart Bishop loved his truck.

He paid for the 2004 Dodge Ram himself and was fixing it up with his father.

His parents couldn’t wait to see his infectious smile when he opened their Christmas present: a promise of four Moto Metal mud grip tires.

“He just had so many dreams for that truck,” his mother said.

Stuart never got to enjoy the tires, which arrived Wednesday. Instead, they were bookends to his coffin as an entire community came together to celebrate his life Saturday.

On Jan. 5,  just before 10 p.m., Stuart was driving west on County Road 318 when he veered off the road and hit a sign. His truck kept going, crashing head-on with a tree and then a fence. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Authorities pronounced him dead minutes later.

He was 17.

***

Williston is a small town just a half hour south of UF, nestled between trees lined with Spanish moss and fields filled with cows. With barely more than 2,750 residents, the town has one high school. The sign overlooking Main Street embodies Williston’s Southern charm: “Come once, you’re a guest. Come twice, you’re family.”

Almost two weeks into 2015, the Williston family is missing a son.

Jonathen Joseph Stuart Bishop was born on Sept. 11, 1997, the son of Jonathen Bishop, 42, and Betty “BJ” Bishop, 40, and the younger brother of Katelyn, 20.

Stuart, as he was known, spent his childhood playing football, climbing on fire trucks and following his father as Jonathen worked with Station 72 of Williston Fire Rescue as a lieutenant.

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“He was genuinely happy, he was genuinely loving,” his father said Friday. “He thought he needed to earn everything and give everything. He was a wiser person than he was in years.”

When Stuart joined Williston High School football team’s defensive line and wore the number 64 for the first time, he was on “cloud nine,” according to Jonathen. A natural-born leader, he often led the team in prayer and kept spirits up when needed.

Family was just as important as football.

Stuart and his father spent their weekends hunting deer, digging, fishing and camping.

He was always a help to his mother. When she worked Christmas Eve, Stuart went to the store and got the ingredients for their traditional Christmas breakfast of sausage, gravy, biscuits and French toast.

“He never wanted to make his momma cry,” BJ said, stifling tears. “He loved his momma.”

But when he didn’t pick up his phone on the night of the crash, Stuart’s parents went looking for him. They rounded a corner and saw the flashing lights, the ambulance, the truck crumbled around the tree.

His momma couldn’t stop crying.

Momma's Boy

Stuart Bishop, 17, hugs his mother, BJ Bishop.

***

Reminders of Stuart were everywhere at the funeral.

Pictures of the truck lay alongside pictures of Stuart with his family. The Monster logo, which he had hoped to outline in green lights on his truck, peeked out of a bouquet of green and yellow flowers.

A firefighter hat inscribed with his name balanced on top of the tires, honoring his eight weeks as an auxiliary firefighter and his dream of becoming a firefighter.

Members of the football team all wore their jerseys, alongside the most prominent symbol of the day: the number 64.

It was painted on the back of car windows, written on the back of T-shirts, displayed at the foot of the pulpit. And it was on Stuart’s chest when he was buried in Orange Hill Cemetery in Williston.

Stuart had even chosen a song played at the service: “Simple Man,” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. He had asked his friend Colin Garboski to play it on the guitar if he passed first.

Birthday

Stuart Bishop, 17, holds birthday balloons and Monster.

***

In this close-knit town, the recovery has begun.

Williston High School set up a fund for the family. Alumni and students came forward to make shirts and bracelets in Stuart’s memory. Rose Fant, 45, whose son played football with Stuart, hopes to collect at least 200 written memories from people throughout the town and create a hard-bound book for the Bishop family.

“The way I look at it, Jonathen and BJ had a son,” Fant said, “but they gave a son to a community.”

Many are comforted by the fact that Stuart wasn’t afraid of death. In 2013, he returned from summer volunteering in New York and gave his life to Jesus, said assistant football coach and youth group leader Scott Hall.

His sister told his mother, he knew where he’d be.

A handwritten sign hanging over the casket gave viewers one more way to pay their respects.

“He will have his phone on him … like always,” the sign read. “He will carry your words with him for eternity. Please feel free to text him.”

Will Thompson, 16, a wide receiver on the team and one of Stuart’s best friends, said there was one thing he’d tell Stuart if he had the chance.

“I’d just tell him I love him,” he said.

Best friends, brothers

Stuart Bishop, 17 (right), poses for a photo with Will Thompson, 16, his best friend.

 

Stuart Bishop, 17, poses for a photo in his football uniform.

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