MILTON — Some came in cowboy hats and blue jeans, others in suits or fashionable dresses, one of them even came with his security detail in tow.
All were there to pay final respects to Greg Evers, a farmer and longtime state lawmaker who had in some way made an impression on each of their lives.
“He’s my buddy,” state Sen. Rene Garcia answered when asked why he’d traveled all the way from Miami for a Monday visitation. “I’ve known Greg since he won his (state) House seat, and ever since then we’ve been the oddest of pairings. He was North Florida, hunting and guns, and I was a Miami city boy, but we just hit it off.”
Evers, as was oft repeated, hit if off with everyone he met.
“He never met a stranger,” said Brenda Russell, who’d known Evers for more than 20 years. “I’ve never seen anyone he couldn’t win over with that big ol’ smile.”
Evers, 62, died sometime after 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 21 when his truck ran off a rural road bridge near his home in Baker. The truck was found around noon the following day submerged in approximately 12 feet of water.
Political platitudes came in from across the state following the unexpected death, but Monday was a day for the many in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Escambia counties who Evers had lived among. The visitation drew easily 1,000 visitors, including Gov. Rick Scott who smiled entering the church, but declined to speak to reporters.
Not even an ex-wife could muster a harsh word for the deceased.
“He was a wonderful man, a great father, son and uncle,” said Charleen Taylor, Evers’ first wife. “He was a man of the people. He would stop whatever he was working on to go help people.”
Taylor reminisced briefly about a marriage between teenagers, and the daughter the two had together.
Taylor also said it didn’t surprise her one bit to learn in 2001 that her by-then former husband had decided to run for office.
“He’s been a politician all his life,” she said. “And nothing he did ever surprised me.”
She called Evers’ death “devastating and shocking,” particularly for their now 39-year-old daughter.
Hundreds of flowers and a video slide show greeted all those who entered the church Monday. The visitation line wound far down the hallway of the Baptist Church lobby well before the doors to the church itself were opened at 5 p.m. Family greeted guests in front of an open coffin, where hugs, tears and prayers co-mingled.
Cynthia Price, the manager of the Milton Lewis Funeral Home that put together the service, said her company had put together several large services in the past, but “this is one of the biggest we’ve had.”
Evers nephew Chris Dawson said the family expects the funeral service to be as crowded as the visitation.
Dawson knew Evers both as a Baker strawberry farmer and conservative Republican legislator. He works as a government relations attorney for an Orlando firm.
“He was very different, always. I think he did the process the way it was supposed to be done,” Dawson said. “He listened to every one. He’d take a meeting with anyone. Just because he had convictions didn’t mean he wouldn’t listen to the other side.”
There were some in attendance Monday, like state Rep. Jayer Williamson, for whom Evers, who spent 15 years in the Florida House and Senate, had served as a mentor. And at least one, Crestview’s Sam Brunson, who had preceded him into politics.
“This is really a big loss for the community,” said Williamson, R-Pace. “Everyone who represents this district will serve it better because of the way Greg served.”
Former State Rep. Don Brown was elected to office in Walton County in 2000. Evers took office in a 2001 special election held to replace Jeff Miller, who stepped down to run for Congress. Like everyone else, he smiled when asked how he’d remember the deceased former legislator.
“Greg was an old country boy,” Brown said. “We understood each other’s language.”