Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13
Gary was born on June 16, 1969 to very proud parents Don and Ruby Staley and older sister Karla. Younger brother Matt arrived in 1976.
Gary was your normal active child who was never afraid to try anything and always gave 100% in everything he did. At the early age of 5, he found his first love, soccer. He continued to be very active in sports throughout high school. He was extremely competitive in everything he participated in. In his competition in his youth years he broke both legs, both arms and had knee surgery all as a consequence of being competitive in sports. He participated with his heart and soul.
As a young adult he competed at every level as an avid and accomplished bowler. Gary often told people he was raised in a bowling center. His love of competition earned him a near perfect 299 game and he averaged over 200.
In 1993, Gary married Stephanie Guiott. A year later, what would become the love of Gary’s life was born, a beautiful daughter, Courtney Ann. Gary and I were competing in the Texas State Bowling Tournament in Fort Worth, Texas when the call came Courtney was on the way. We rushed to the airport but he was a few minutes late getting back to Humble for the actual birth. While Gary and Stephanie’s marriage ended in divorce, they remained friends and shared a mutual and deep love for their precious daughter.
Gary truly enjoyed being with family and friends and especially loved the annual family Christmas gatherings. He enjoyed playing cards, games and anything competitive. Gary had a love for magic and was the family entertainer. One trick he enjoyed resulted in a selected card sticking to the vaulted ceiling at our home. The cards were stuck with some sort of tacky wax and remained on the ceiling for too many years before they were finally removed.
In the year 2000, Gary was talking to his mom and I and announced he had just joined the Porter Volunteer Fire Department as a volunteer fire fighter. As soon as he left we asked each other why he did that. There was no history or previous interest in being a firefighter. In his mother’s suspicious mind she had it all figured out and a judge had mandated community service for something he had done. To our knowledge he had not been in any kind of trouble necessitating community service but you all know how mothers imagine things. When Ruby finally confronted Gary with her theory, he just started laughing and said "Mom, judges don’t give you community service to fight fires." He was really amused at the thought she had come to this possibility.
During the next few months, Gary would be visiting our home and after a loud strange noise came out of a small black box he was carrying on his belt would run out the door trying to beat everyone to the fire station to go on a fire call. Then, the department was strictly "volunteer" and the first ones to arrive at the station went to the fire.
In 2002, Gary was so proud and excited about being presented the Rookie of the Year award for the Porter Fire Department. While working a full time job as an accountant at Anadarko Petroleum Company, he participated in over 300 fire calls. Gary felt he had indeed found his niche in life.
Gary was extremely dedicated to his commitment of being a firefighter. In Houston, a fireman named Jay Yahnke, was unfortunately killed in the line of duty and Gary said he was taking off work without pay to attend the funeral. Both his mother and I asked "did you know him" and he said "no" but he was a brother. We didn’t truly appreciate the impact of his statement. All we understood was he was taking off work without pay and he couldn’t afford to do that.
His mother and I had made the decision to sell our home in Kingwood and relocate to our lake house on Lake Corpus Christi for our retirement years. On Saturday, January 18, 2003, Gary was helping me clean out a storage area in Kingwood and we had a great opportunity to talk about a variety of things. One of the comments he made was that it was the dream of most firefighters (and his) to be in the position to save a life in their role as a firefighter but most never had the opportunity. Later that day, he spent quality time with his mother and then took his nine year old daughter, Courtney, bowling and spent the afternoon with her. That evening, Gary and his brother Matt spent the evening doing whatever they were doing but again quality time with each other. We didn’t realize it at the time but God was giving us the opportunity to say "goodbye".
On January 19, 2003, a Sunday morning, I stayed at home from church getting the house ready to go on the real estate market on Monday. Ruby and his daughter, Courtney, went to church at the Forest Cove Baptist Church on Loop 494. On their way home, Ruby saw smoke from a burning building further down Loop 494 and commented to Courtney that she knew Gary was fighting the fire.
About four hours after Ruby and Courtney got home, Courtney came running in the house and said there are four firemen walking up the steps and Dad was not with them. I looked out the glass door and immediately knew the message they were bringing. I guess the realization was so vivid from watching too many war movies when the notification of a soldier's death was given to the family. These four men were Porter Fire Department Chief, Jody Binnion, Ex Porter Fire Chief and Jody’s dad, Royce Binnion, Pastor Don Harms of the Porter Baptist Church and the department Chaplain, Skip Straus. I had never met any of these gentlemen and in retrospect would have preferred to have never met them. I say that with a grieving heart of a father who lost his son. I truly appreciate each of these fine gentlemen. I am really not sure if the Staley family adopted Skip or Skip adopted us but he certainly is a part of the Staley family and provided the love, compassion and Godly care that was so desperately needed.
I do want to mention about the fire itself as it is important to the memory of Gary’s dedication. There were four firefighters responding to the fire call along with Chief Binnion. As they went into the burning building, they did not know if the building was occupied or empty. Gary was the fourth man in the fire (no reference to scripture intended) and was at the back end of the hose. As they walked into the building, Gary’s last words were said to Juan Chapa, the third fireman, "I’ve got your back". The building was engulfed in smoke and flame and the fireman had extremely limited visibility. Gary left the hose line to get a spot light so they could see to direct the water flow to the source of the fire. Shortly thereafter, there was a flashover and the firemen were in trouble and in severe danger, and as you would expect, in a panic mode. The first firefighter, Gary’s friend Juan Chapa, in this state of panic, took off his gloves and sustained serious burns on both hands as he followed the hose to safety. The second fireman was crawling out on his hands and knees following the hose and rammed his head into a metal support pole that dislodged his helmet burning his face. Gary saw that he was in trouble and was able to get his helmet re-secured and the fireman pointed to the exit. He escaped with minor burns on his face. Gary immediately went back further into the burning building looking for the fourth fireman not knowing he had escaped while Gary was helping the third fireman. When Gary proceeded further into the building, a race car loaded with nitrous oxide exploded nearby and Gary was fatally injured.
The next week was a week straight out of hell as the department prepared for Gary’s funeral. Skip had talked with Ruby about having a fireman’s funeral but it would take extra days to put everything together. We knew that would be what Gary wanted and we agreed to the delay. What a fantastic job Skip did arranging this enormous funeral. The funeral was on a Friday and it was so cold. There were 150 fire trucks from all over the United States and over 2,000 firemen attending the funeral to pay tribute to their fallen brother. This is just another example of the brotherhood exhibited by these dedicated and loyal public servants to their fallen brother. Another fireman that should be mentioned is John Yoars. John provided and arranged every need for our family during the longest week of our lives before Gary's funeral.
Not one day goes by without Gary speaking to my heart sometimes making me smile when I see his wry smile and other times bringing tears. I don’t know why it was Gary’s time to go be with God but I do know that without a strong belief in God our lives would have been destroyed. People often make the comment "I could not survive if I lost my child" and the answer is "yes" you can if you are a believer because God is always in control and with you.
From the Staley family and the Gary Staley Memorial Scholarship Committee, we would like to say "thank you" to the many wonderful friends who have provided support through their prayers and financial support of the Gary Staley Memorial Fund. A special thank you is extended to the many volunteers and especially to the Porter Fire Department who have diligently worked on the annual golf event. The hole sponsors and volunteers have been unbelievably loyal providing support each and every year. We are so grateful for their support in honor of Gary and to provide training needs and equipment for their safety.
Thank you for reading Gary’s story.
Contributions to the Gary Staley Memorial Fund should be sent to:
Gary Staley Memorial Fund
46472 McGill Drive
Plantersville, TX 77363
Thank you and may God be with you.
As a parting thought: Life will bring you pain all by itself, our responsibility is to create joy.