Missing man found by family: Body discovered 200 yards from house

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 28, 2004

It was his land. He grew it. He nourished it. He even helped raise the children who trampled it. If it had to end like this, there could have been no better place to find the emblematic father of Belmont.

The body of Brister Waiters, 102, was discovered early Tuesday morning lying face down on the same land he spent a lifetime cultivating.

Despite two weeks of searching, a corps of dogs, and a fervent family intent on laying Waiters to rest the right way, it turns out Waiters wasn’t far away at all. In fact, he was about 200 yards from his home when nephew Joe Brown Sr. found him around 8 a.m. Tuesday.

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“I’m so thankful to God that we found him,” said Velma Waiters Wright, one of Brister Waiters’ daughters. “It was starting to get to me, thinking where he could be and what had happened to him.”

From all indications, Waiters passed away doing the same thing he had done for years — walking the land of Belmont.

“They found him by the old church cemetery, right by the beaver dam,” said Wright. “When Joe saw him, all you could see was his mid-section. You could see his suspenders and that was about all.”

Though Sumter County Sheriff did not return calls Tuesday, Wright believes her father fell in the water near his home.

“After the rain this weekend, I imagine that’s what brought him back up to the surface,” she said.

For nearly two weeks, Wright and the rest of her family — including Waiters’ wife, Prudie — have agonized over the disappearance of a man considered mentally sharp, by most measures.

“He was always pretty much an active person,” said granddaughter Carla Wright Jenkins, who lives in Michigan. “He was healthy, and mentally, he was in and out… Most times, he knew exactly what he was talking about.”

Search crews from around Sumter County — mostly family members — were occasionally joined by law enforcement officials and squads from neighboring counties. In the end, it was the family that found Waiters in a place they had passed “dozens and dozens of times,” Wright said.

“I can’t tell you how many times we walked by that place,” she said.

Now that Waiters has been found, all that’s left are the memories of a man who apparently touched the lives of plenty.

“He knew everybody,” said Lucille Carpenter, who considered Waiters a father-figure. “He helped raise us. He was daddy’s right arm. He was always there with daddy.”

For that matter, Waiters did much more than help James Gandy — Carpenter’s father — farm the Belmont land. He helped steer young girls in the right direction.

“Sometimes, when we acted up, he’d tell us, ‘You girls better behave because your daddy’s gonna get y’all,'” Carpenter recalled.

As of press time, funeral arrangements had not been confirmed. Larkin and Scott Funeral Directors will handle arrangements for a family that finally fell asleep at peace Tuesday night.

“We’ve been going every day,” Wright said. “We looked every day and wanted so bad to find him.”

That sense of relief will bring a calming resolution to the storied life of Waiters. But Prudie Waiters will need more time before she realizes the impact her husband had on the small Belmont community.

“She’s not doing the best right now,” Wright said. “She’s had crying spells today.”

One day, maybe she’ll find the same resolve family friend Lucille Carpenter discovered Tuesday after hearing the news.

“He’d come and go, and there were a lot of times when he wandered off,” she said. “I don’t think he drowned. I think, maybe, he just finally fell asleep.”