Get right with God, Waylon Hunt told his family, friends and strangers.
“He woke us up this morning, so God gave us another chance to get it right. Whatever you need to fix, fix it now because He woke you up and gave you this chance.”
His faith came first, then family, then everyone else who crossed his path, especially children in need of guidance. Those are the passions that will linger, the local minister’s family says, the ones that will continue to have an impact long after Waylon’s death.
Husband and father, minister and mentor, the 37-year-old was shot to death on Christmas Eve.
Pushing forward through her darkest days, Waylon’s wife is finding comfort and purpose in people – more than she knew, many she’s never met – whose lives were changed by her husband’s life and, now, after his death.
“I didn’t ever know he would have a big impact like this. He had got right. I’m gonna miss him, because he was my soulmate. He was my best friend,” Bridget said. “I’ve been talking to a lot of people. They’re trying to make right now, to do right because he’s been an influence.
“That’s what he wanted: they could look at him, see all the tattoos and not be judged.”
From coaching any sport that crossed his path – little league football, basketball, soccer, softball – to working at KidsWorld or acting as a surrogate father when called upon, Waylon’s drive was to help guide the next generation.
“That was his passion,” according to Waylon’s mother, Alice Hunt. “They were his ministry. His work. He wanted to make a difference in the lives of children as they grew from childhood to adulthood.
“He just wanted to make a positive impact in this world. He wanted to make a difference. He looked out for everybody, the elderly as well as the children. If there was anything he could do, he was going to do it for you.”
All he’d ever wanted to be, his mother said, was a husband and father.
“He married the love of his life, his high school sweetheart,” Alice said. “They’ve been together since they were 13.”
As he watched his two daughters grow, Waylon came to feel he’d let work get in the way of raising Bria and Whitney.
His first job was at Martin Gas. Waylon went on to Schlumberger, Halliburton and other companies in the oilfield, climbing to field supervisor and, his ultimate goal, consultant.
His priorities evolved, though, in 2015: he left the oilfield.
“He said he wanted to be with his family more,” Alice said. “He never went back. He was never going back. He felt like he had missed a lot with his children because he had been in the oilfield since college.”
By March 2016, Waylon had earned his daycare director certification for his job as the director’s assistant at KidsWorld.
“He was the comforter,” helping a crying child transition from parent to daycare, says Bridget, a special education instructor at Kilgore ISD. “That’d make that parent feel safe.”
Waylon subbed at KISD and thrived on the opportunity to set an example: “He was that father figure many of them needed. He could talk to them without raising his voice.”
Waylon was invested in people – the young, the old, complete strangers – ministering to them in spiritual and practical ways.
“In every store we went in, he had to talk to everybody,” according to Waylon’s eldest daughter, Bria, a freshman in college. “We’d be in there for hours.”
One of his favorite things to do was to take his young charges to get haircuts, she said, any youngster who needed a trim. It became a weekly excursion with the nephews.
He’d meticulously research the styles, Alice echoed. With their parents permission, it would be time for a change: “He’d just take them to the barbershop.”
Waylon had been dubbed “Minister Waylon” as a half-joke long before he ever stepped foot on the path to a pulpit.
It became a reality, however: the Rev. Hunt offered his first sermon July 2, his birthday.
“He felt it was God calling. He surprised me,” Bridget said, but no: “It wasn’t really a surprise. You could see him changing.”
It was visible, his mother agrees: “It was a transformation in him,” she said.
Waylon completed Kilgore Police Department’s Clergy & Police Alliance training in November.
His final appearance before New Hope Baptist Church came on Sunday when he led the invitation to discipleship prayer, first for his youngest daughter.
“He turned it and started praying for everybody,” Bridget said, “the youth, his brother, his family.”
According to Alice, “He said, ‘I love my children so much I would take a bullet for them.’ He said it Sunday morning.”
“He wanted to really inspire the youth,” Bria repeated, smiling at the memory of her dad visiting with her friends: “He used to embarrass me,” she laughed, a fount of ‘dad jokes.’
Waylon had plans to teach young boys life skills, Bridget added.
“He knew what you were going through,” she added. “He just wanted to help the youth.
“That was part of his last prayer: they need to change because they’re growing up in a different world than we grew up in.”
His legacy, his family says, is captured in faith, family and serving others.
If Waylon had a final message, “Change,” Bridget said. “Get right with the Lord.
“Know who Jesus is,” Alice added. “Make this world a better place.”