On a day originally slated for celebration, Master Patrol Officer Spencer Bristol was laid to rest in Hendersonville on Tuesday in an unprecedented display of respect and honor.
Bristol, 31, died Dec. 30 after being struck by a passing vehicle on I-65 while chasing a suspect on foot.
The recently promoted officer was supposed to receive his MPO pin on Jan. 7.
Instead, thousands gathered to bid him farewell – first in a touching ceremony at First Baptist Church, and then along Main Street where a procession of law enforcement vehicles from across the state stretched for more than three miles.
First Baptist Senior Pastor Bruce Chesser first introduced those most impacted by the young officer’s death – his wife Lauren, three-year-old daughter Eloise, parents Don and Lee Ann Bristol and his sister, Ashlen Farmer.
There were few dry eyes as Grand Ole Opry member Connie Smith serenaded Eloise with “You are my Sunshine,” a song the father and daughter shared regularly together. Other musical performers included Vince Gill who sang the ballad “Go Rest High on that Mountain,” and Rockland Road who sang three songs including the Mercy Me hit, “I Can Only Imagine.”
Those who knew Bristol best recalled a loving husband, father, son and brother; a former Navy corpsman who sacrificed his life for others on more than one occasion; and a tender-hearted prankster with a quick wit.
‘A life of service’
Police Chief Mickey Miller said he remembered the day he hired Bristol in 2015 because of the young officer’s energy and positive attitude.
“He walked in the door jumping… and after four years he still had the same positive attitude,” said Miller. “He was the epitome of what an outstanding police officer should be.”
Bristol served on the department’s Swat and Flex teams before moving back to the patrol division in October, Miller said. He learned on Dec. 12 that he was being promoted from officer to master patrol officer.
“Spencer had chosen a life of service,” said Miller who listed the several commendations Bristol received while serving in the U. S. Navy as a combat medic from 2007 to 2012.
“This gives you a glimpse of the type of man he was,” said Miller. “He was a true hero. He was my hero.”
Fellow Officer J. R. Moran said he had known Bristol, who graduated from Station Camp High School in 2007, since high school.
Moran recalled Bristol’s fun-loving personality, goofy laugh and humble nature.
“Spencer was a real-life hero,” Moran said.
He told of spotting a plaque sitting on the floor of Bristol’s “mancave” propped up against a wall.
The award recognized Bristol’s bravery for saving several lives on three separate occasions in Afghanistan. While others would have boasted about the commendations, Bristol remained humble, Moran noted.
“Like I said, hero,” he added.
He told of how they laughed about Bristol inviting former President George W. Bush via email to his pinning ceremony scheduled for Jan. 7.
When he received a response a few days later that Bush wouldn’t be coming, Bristol just smiled and said, “I guess I’ll just have to go to Plan B: Kid Rock,” Moran recalled.
Moran said he later wrote Bush’s office himself, as did several other officers, following Bristol’s death.
On Jan. 6 Bush’s secretary called Moran to tell him that Bush was out of pocket, but to please pass on his condolences to Bristol’s family.
Sgt. Seneca Smith told of his friend’s quick wit and love for having Nerf gun battles with his young daughter.
“His face always glowed when he talked about you guys,” Smith said to Bristol’s wife Lauren.
The two spent a lot of time in Bristol’s garage talking about work and family, he added.
“He touched so many lives and a little part of him is carried by each one of us.”
Like Moran, Smith said that Bristol’s fellow officers have been touched by the outpouring of support from the community following the tragedy.
“It lets some of us know who are jaded that we can make an impact just as he did,” said Smith who added that even someone who Bristol arrested came by the police department to pay their respects to the fallen officer.
‘A warrior’s heart, immeasurable courage’
Bristol’s sister Ashlen Farmer recalled a husband who loved his wife and an officer who served his city.
“To me he was the big brother who would change the chore list mom left to only have my name on it,” she laughed. “But he was also the big brother who had my back.”
Farmer, who said she followed her brother down the aisle the same day he became a Christian, said her brother’s faith was a big part of who he was.
“Remember the love that he poured into this community,” she said. “That is God’s love.”
Bristol’s dad Dan said his son had a funny, almost sinister side to him, but that he would do anything for a friend.
Many times his son would give care packages sent to him while in Afghanistan to his fellow servicemen.
He enjoyed seeing his son excel in track and football, but the times he was most proud of him were when he lost, the dad noted.
“He was always gracious and he was always kind,” he said. “I believe God’s plan was for him to demonstrate that love to everybody he encountered.”
“God gave him a warrior’s heart, immeasurable courage,” Bristol’s dad added. “He was fearless and he always rushed into the service of others without concern for himself, and that’s what brings us here today.”
Kelly Smith and Shelley Moran read a statement from Lauren Bristol.
“This is an incredible tragedy and we have been held up by kindness and love,” said Bristol. “Spencer was a light and I charge all of you today to never let it burn out.”
The young widow said it would be easy to hate and be angry after last week’s tragedy. She asked for kindness and compassion instead.
“My greatest hope is that Eloise and all of our children can grow up in a world where the kindness that has been shown to us is multiplied,” she said.
“Since I can’t have my greatest wish of having Spencer back, I can only ask instead that we all work to show Eloise every day how much her daddy loved her.”
Kid Rock makes surprise appearance
Hundreds of law enforcement officers from across Tennessee, as well as officers from as far away as Chicago and Texas, filed from the church to join in the hour-long procession along Main Street. The procession, led by more than 60 police motorcycles, stretched more than three miles and winded down Main Street to Imperial Boulevard, then to the Hendersonville Police Department on Executive Drive, and back down Main Street to Hendersonville Memory Gardens.
Thousands of people lined the route, holding signs, waving flags or just solemnly standing with a hand over their heart. The route passed three schools and a daycare where students and teachers at each facility lined the street. Some blew bubbles in honor of Eloise – a wish expressed by the family and police department.
Later on Tuesday, Hendersonville officers received a surprise visit from MPO Bristol’s “Plan B.”
Photos of officers at a gathering at VFW Post 9851 with Kid Rock began to circulate on social media at around 7 p.m.
Hendersonville Parks Director Andy Gilley credited local fiddle player Tim Watson for arranging the encounter.
“The fact that Kid Rock took the time out of his day to come hang with us is unreal,” wrote Moran on his Facebook page. “I will forever be a fan. Spencer would be beside himself.”
HOW TO HELP
On Thursday, Jan. 9, two local restaurants are holding fundraisers for the Bristol family. Moby Dicky’s and Sanders Ferry Pizza will donate 100 percent of their sales to help support the family. Both restaurants are located on Sanders Ferry Road. Those wanting to help the family may also contribute to the 100 Club of Sumer County at any Volunteer State Bank or at www.100clubsumner.org.