Durrance Eulogized As Generous, Loving Friend

ORMOND BEACH --- From near and from far they came Monday morning, filling Christ Presbyterian Church far beyond capacity to pay their last respects to number 33, Tommy Durrance, who was known to Florida Gator fans as "Touchdown Tommy" of the Super Sophs of 1969. As you would expect at a funeral, there were plenty of tears, but tears continually gave way to laughter as a life well lived was praised and eulogized by those who knew him best.

Durrance died Friday morning at the much too young age of 55 with his wife Jo Lynn and three children (Tad, Dai and Joey) at his bedside. The last five years of his life were a struggle against a foe for which there is not only no cure, but no treatment. He lived those last five years in quiet dignity as his body deteriorated from this degenerative neurological disease, never complaining, always gracious and thankful that his many friends would take the time to visit with him.

In this seaside community, Tommy Durrance was almost bigger than life. At Mainland High School, he was one of the greatest football players in the school's storied athletic history. At the University of Florida, he was a star on the Super Sophs team, setting scoring records (18 touchdowns, 110 points both in 1969) that have been tied but never broken. Back in Volusia County where he took over the family paving business when his father retired, he was a respected businessman and community activist who always had time for a cause if he thought it was good. For years, he quietly donated the barbeque for the Volusia County Gator Club's summer gathering. He and his friends would stay up all night cooking then the next day they would serve the University of Florida's friends and alumni who would come to hear the football coach speak.

Throughout the years, the bank that his personal life was filled with one IOU after another from friends and strangers alike who are forever indebted to his generosity. As his longtime friend Wayne McCall, who lettered for the Gators in 1964, 66-67, said, "If you ever saw Tommy Durrance looking down on anyone, it was only because he was leaning over with a hand stretched out trying to lift someone up."

So it was this man --- football hero, devoted husband, doting father, generous boss and quiet community philanthropist --- that so many came to say their final farewells to Monday. Everyone from friends to former teachers and coaches to Steve Spurrier, Jeremy Foley and a large contingent of the Silver Sixties Association, the former UF football players who played for Coach Ray Graves, came to show support for Jo Lynn and the family, but in typical Durrance fashion, it was the Durrance family that did much of the ministering.

Jo Lynn and daughter Dai sang a duet of "On Eagle's Wings" and a few minutes later, Jo Lynn went solo with a medley of songs that began with the old hymn "In The Garden." That she was strong enough to handle the moment came as no surprise to Rev. Joe Wendorph, who said "We came here today to minister to the Durrance family and here they are ministering to us."

Wendorph surveyed the crowd, the largest ever to fill Christ Presbyterian and said, "Well, Tommy, you did it again!" Wendorph began a theme that would be repeated so many times when he stated, "We remember that man, the one who lifted us up so many times."

      Once Tommy Durrance became your friend, he was your friend forever, through the good times and the bad."

Tommy Durrance had that ability to lift people up. As John Schnebly and C.J. Asbury noted in their remembrances of the friend they had known since elementary school, once Tommy Durrance became your friend, he was your friend forever, through the good times and the bad. And, if there were bad times, he was the guy who was there to see if he could help reverse the bad fortune.

Schnebly and Asbury played on a great Mainland team with Durrance in 1967. Like Durrance, Schnebly would go on to Florida to play football. Asbury earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy. He made a career of the Air Force, a life that took him all over the world. Yet when he was promoted to Colonel in Washington, D.C., Tommy Durrance drove to Washington along with Jo Lynn and his parents to be there when something important happened to a friend.

"That's the kind of friend he was," Asbury told the crowd. "He wanted to be there with me to share that moment. That meant so much to me."

As he recalled Durrance's life, Asbury said, "This is a man who tried to put 10 pounds of life into a five-pound bag … and did it."

Schnebly and Asbury were not from the same side of the tracks as Durrance. Durrance was from a well to do family, his father the founder and owner of Halifax Paving. But when Durrance befriended the two, they became, as Asbury said, "the original Three Amigos."

Schnebly recalled, "At my home lunch was a baloney sandwich and a glass of milk that you fixed yourself. Tommy invited us into his home and every day lunch was like Christmas dinner to us."

Asbury said, "He had a trampoline and a pool … his home was like Disneyland." But despite the obvious differences in family social status, Durrance never once made a big deal of it. He was just a regular guy who was a great friend that made them a part of his family. He took his buddies wherever he went. In the summer, it was to the river for skiing and fishing. During hunting season, they were always in the woods. When there were sports to be played, they were teammates.

When they went away to college --- Asbury to the Air Force Academy, Durrance and Schnebly to Florida --- Asbury got homesick for Florida and his friends. He wanted to come home but Durrance spent the time on the phone, counseling his good friend. In the end, Asbury stuck with the Air Force Academy and had a fine career serving his country. When Schnebly wanted to talk, inevitably, it was on State Road 40 as the two of them drove back to Dayntona Beach from Gainesville.

"We had a lot of long talks on State Road 40," said Schnebly, whose stories about those weekend drives home varied from the funny to one that was quite serious. On one drive home Durrance told Schnebly about his new girlfriend, a certain Jo Lynn Pijot from Panama City. Schnebly knew her from English class. That same Jo Lynn Pijot became Jo Lynn Durrance. They were a natural fit because they both had this way of lifting people up.

For 31 years, they did everything together. They raised their kids, they were pillars in the community and they were the biggest Gator fans in Volusia County. Wherever they went, they made plenty of new friends and made lasting impressions.

      This was a man who was very generous with his time and even his possessions. He never complained about his illness. He just lived every day to the fullest and he was always gracious and thankful to everyone who came to see him."

Tad Durrance said his father "lived his life in a way that left a lasting impression of generosity" and youngest son Joey quipped, "there is a fresh layer of asphalt today on the road to heaven."

Perhaps it was his college roommate and longtime friend Andy Cheney who summarized what Tommy Durrance was all about.

"Everybody related to Tommy Durrance," he said. "This was a man who was very generous with his time and even his possessions. He never complained about his illness. He just lived every day to the fullest and he was always gracious and thankful to everyone who came to see him."

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