Gary Freeman said his lifelong friend, Dallas firefighter Scott Tanskley, could have done anything he put his mind to. But he didn’t like to draw attention to himself.
“He shunned the limelight, actually, but he always found himself in it,” Freeman said .
Tanksley, 40, spent one final moment as the focus of attention Monday. His funeral drew hundreds of firefighters from across the state, as well as his Kemp high school classmates, former baseball teammates and top Dallas city officials. They packed the 1,500-seat Terrell ISD Performing Arts Center and an adjacent building to mourn and celebrate Tanksley, who fell to his death from a highway overpass Feb. 10 while working an ice-induced car crash.
“Even though we’ve had a tough week and certainly we have some tough days ahead, we’re able to smile because we know that Scott lived his life to the fullest,” Fire Chief Louie Bright III said.
Police Chief David Brown, Mayor Mike Rawlings, City Manager A.C. Gonzalez and other city officials also attended the services, joining dozens of Dallas firefighters there who were mourning the loss of the department’s third firefighter in the line of duty within the past 10 months.
After the funeral, hundreds more people – many of them strangers to Tanksley – honored him by lining parts of the 40-mile route from the Performing Arts Center to the Dallas cemetery where he was laid to rest.
During the two-hour service, a few firefighters handed personal items to Tanksley’s widow Wendi, his 8-year-old son, Levi, and his two young daughters, Laynee and Lynlee Grace. Levi cried when he received his father’s well-worn yellow fire helmet, which he clutched tightly.
Neighbors and family members say Tanksley, who lived in Kemp, was a family man who helped out with his father’s electrical business, coached his son’s Little League baseball teams and cared for elderly people.
Wendi and Scott had known each other since high school, said Chaplain Denny Burris, who spoke on the family’s behalf. They went on their first date before Tanksley had his driver license. Wendi drove, and Tanksley paid.
“She wanted to date the big man on campus, and he wanted to date the beauty queen,” he said.
They reunited in their 20s, Burris said. Friday – Valentine’s Day – would have been their 16th wedding anniversary.
But Tanksley died four days earlier while responding to a wreck on the Spur 408 overpass in Mountain Creek. Another car driving at an “unsafe speed” slid on the ice and hit the wrecked car and then Tanksley, who fell 56 feet onto an Interstate 20 frontage road, according to a police report.
Gonzalez, who visited Tanksley’s family the night of the wreck, said he didn’t know the firefighter personally, but “from what I’ve read, the guy was a superstar.”
The streets outside the services Monday were lined with fire trucks, U.S. flags and mourners on a warm, sunny day – a far cry from the cold, icy weather the week before.
Tom Tanksley, Scott’s uncle and a retired Dallas assistant fire chief, said after the funeral that the family was “astounded at the level of support.”
“It was a wonderful celebration of his life and his career and what he meant to the community and what he meant to fire service,” he said.
Scott Tanksley joined Dallas Fire-Rescue in 1999 after an injury cut short his professional baseball career. He had pitched in the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system after racking up accolades at Mississippi State University.
Tom Tanksley said he encouraged his nephew to join the fire department after telling him about how the job allowed him to help people.
“To be honest with you, I only told him the good things,” Tom Tanksley said with a laugh. “I didn’t tell him about all the times he would come in and his supper would be cold. I didn’t tell him about all the times he would be in the shower and he’d have to go because of an emergency.”
Still, Scott Tanksley embraced the job, his uncle said. And when he was off duty, he spent time with his family.
‘Being the best’
Freeman, the lifelong friend, said Tanksley had always been good at everything he did dating back to their school days in Kemp.
“He never bragged about being the best,” he said. “He just went out and proved it. He didn’t preach about hard work, he just worked hard.”
Mark and Cindy Manning, whose son Carson played baseball for Tanksley’s team, said Tanksley was a great teacher and always honest with them. He also wasn’t much for small talk, they said.
“He was a man of few words,” said Mark Manning, who is also a Dallas firefighter. “But when he did speak, you listened.”
Gerald Spidle, a friend of the Tanksley family, said he didn’t know Scott Tanksley very well, but knew of him as a God-fearing family man.
“He was a good example,” said Spidle, whose son is an Austin firefighter. “For some reason, we always lose the good examples.”