To illustrate Brandon Wilson’s boyish creativity, neighbor Nate Lyell thinks back to a winter several years ago.
In anticipation for a snowstorm that would make driving conditions dangerous overnight, Gwinnett County Public Schools preemptively canceled classes. The snow never came, to the disappointment to Wilson’s sons Pierce and Garrett and their neighborhood friends. Brandon Wilson, though, wasn’t going to allow his boys and their friends to miss a rare opportunity for sledding.
Lyell and Wilson decided to mist a hill in their neighborhood with a garden hose to create a sheet of ice for their kids to sled down. Wilson saved the “snow day.”
“He was making the most out of a busted snow storm, spearheading the idea so the kids could have a place to sled,” said Lyell, who is the Grayson Athletics Association’s baseball director.
Wilson’s youthful presence and penchant for telling hilarious stories will leave a void in the lives of many, one that some of his friends say can’t be replaced. The 39-year-old was killed in a boating accident on Lake Hartwell on July 6, leaving behind Jenny, his wife and a Brookwood High grad, and his sons Pierce, 9, and Garrett, 6.
The avid outdoorsman was known for telling fishing, hunting and frog-gigging stories and he wanted to pass that passion to his sons. He was known as much for his love of the outdoors as he was for his vested interest in his sons’ youth baseball and football careers.
Wilson’s death stunned several local circles and inspired them to rally together in support of Wilson’s wife and two sons. A GoFundMe will help cover meals, cleaning and yard work services or anything that could provide relief for the family rocked by the loss of their father and husband.
It had reached $60,000 in roughly 48 hours. In five days, the page said it had raised more than $85,000.
“They’re a huge part of the baseball and football community as far as that goes,” longtime family friend and co-worker Jordan Fidanza said. “I see that as part of the healing process. ... They appreciate the community as a huge part of it.”
The fundraising efforts are a combination of support from family, friends and the collaboration of several local communities. Fidanza works at Waffle House’s corporate offices where Wilson worked with Jenny. He is one of several close friends who helped organize the fundraising page.
Members of youth athletics organizations in Grayson and Lilburn, where Pierce and Garrett are both active athletes, have been spearheading fundraisers for the family, including a home run derby and back-to-school bash and move night.
At the football complex in Baycreek Park, Wilson coached his son Pierce, a rising standout running back in Grayson’s youth program. Scott Bryant, the Gwinnett Football League director for the Grayson Athletics Association, said Wilson built a reputation as a parent-coach who would rather demonstrate drills to kids than bark instructions.
“He didn’t just stand around and he got in there and got dirty,” Bryant said. “He was always trying to help all the kids, not just his kids.”
Wilson also carried that altruistic approach to coaching baseball. In July 2018, the Wilson boys began playing baseball out of Mountain Park where the Meridian travel baseball team is based. Meridian coach Tom Taylor said the parent-coach staff developed a philosophy of leaving discipline of their sons up to other coaches.
Wilson showed just as much interest in Pierce’s teammates as he did in his own son’s development as a baseball player, Taylor said. He was described as firm, appropriate and concise, and not only a good role model, but also a skilled coach.
The void Wilson leaves on the Meridian team is one Taylor said they may never fill, both literally and emotionally. Taylor said the parents of Meridian team are organizing a way to honor Wilson on their uniforms for the upcoming season.
“In the grand scheme, we really knew each other for a relatively short time,” Taylor said. “But we got very close quickly, as he did with my assistant coaches and all the boys on the team.”
Wilson never met a stranger and was known for helping his friends in any situation. Fidanza recounted a time when his mother felt uneasy at home when his smoke alarms were going off while he was away. Wilson dropped what he was doing to put Fidanza and his mother at ease by troubleshooting the problem.
“That’s time after time, man, that was just him,” Fidanza said. “He was a character and had true character.”
If the fundraising efforts of Wilson’s family friends didn’t make the community’s support feel real, Jenny and her sons felt it at Saturday’s memorial service. At Saint Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Church in Lawrenceville, every pew was full of family and friends. The church was so full that there was standing room on the sides and behind the pews. Wilson’s family eulogized him, including Jenny who was met with a standing ovation by an estimated of 800 to 1,000 people.
“Like (Jenny) said at the service, (the athletics communities have) become their tribe,” Fidanza said. “It was touching and perfect.”