John Brent Hillyard, July 18, 1947 to March 10, 2022
Brent, a month older than me, was my friend throughout grade school and high school in St Joseph. We lost touch after our first years in college around 1970. We reconnected in the last year and the last year of Brent’s life, after I tracked him down online from Oxford. We had a wonderful reunion with the hope of continuing our talks. I was amazed by his midwestern accent – which was incredible to hear. We caught up, sharing news about common friends and loves of our life.
In grade school, Brent lived in a mansion (to me) on Noyes Boulevard. I would be at his house often. He always had interesting things to do: a hunting dog, a new go-cart, a new rifle, you name it. His home was on a steep hillside, and we would drive the go-cart as fast as we could around his parking area in the back of his house. To this day, I remember (the late) Steve Moose doing laps and then suddenly losing control and veering down the driveway at top speed. We all ran to see whether he made it out alive after flying down the hill and into the street! All was fine – a big laugh.
Brent was the fullback on our grade school pick-up football team. I was a terrible quarterback (we always lost), but whenever we couldn’t think of what to do, our go-to play was to hand off to Brent to run up the middle leaving bodies strewn down the field.
Brent and his family were wonderful to me. I’d leave St Joseph to go to their cabin in Minnesota most summers. At his family’s cabin by a lake we would fish, camp, and play cards when it rained. Brent taught me how to play gin. And he was a good cook, who first introduced me to Tabasco sauce on scrambled eggs. When I was 16, I drove my 49-Ford up to stay with him. I recall Brent and I going to see Roy Orbison play live at a small joint and how amazing Orbison looked with those thick glasses he wore.
We stayed close friends through high school, doing all the things bored teenagers did from hanging out with the gang to driving to Kansas for 3.2 beer. He was such fun. A strong guy, and big part of my youth, who was gentle, loyal, dog loving, and fearless.
Last Saturday night, over 50 years since I had last seen Brent, I decided to put some logs in my little chiminea to enjoy a fire in Oxford, England. As I stared into the fire, I recall how immediately I was taken back to camping with Brent and sitting around a big log fire after each night’s fresh fish dinner. It was so vivid as if it was like yesterday. The next day, I got an email from Brent’s daughter, telling me of his death.
Brent’s death is heartbreaking to me and undoubtedly to all who befriended this larger-than-life man. My deepest condolences to all his family and friends.
*I posted a nearly identical text on Facebook, but want it to be findable for as long as possible. Brent’s more detailed obituary is online at: https://www.echovita.com/us/obituaries/mo/kansas-city/john-brent-hillyard-14360108