Before the fire, Jeremy Shultz always had the best seat in the house, operating large cameras at the edge of big-time sports action and all over the country for ESPN or CBS or Fox.
But if you watched the Wofford- College of Charleston game Thursday night on ESPNU, you didn't get the quality camera work you have unknowingly appreciated during countless bowl games, March Madness doubleheaders and Major League Baseball telecasts.
An ESPNU camera behind one of the baskets at Carolina First Arena was left unmanned, a tribute to Jeremy, who died last Friday at the Joseph M. Still Burn Center in Augusta of injuries suffered Dec. 30 in an early morning fire at his home in Goose Creek.
He was 37.
I ran into Jeremy and his infectious smile at stadiums and arenas from Charleston to Kansas City, Miami to Blacksburg, Va. We chatted, joked, pulled pranks on each other.
But always the conversation kept going back to family. Jeremy asked about mine and went on and on about Maryann Hernandez, the love of his life, their 3-year-old son Dallas and her 11-year-old daughter Cinnamin.
"Yes, that sounds like Jeremy," Maryann said Thursday, a few hours before his funeral. "Nothing was more important to Jeremy than the kids."
All about family
You know how at many funerals folks console themselves by agreeing that the departed lived a long life and didn't suffer much? This wasn't one of those.
They arrived at Northwoods Chapel early, filling all the seats. Soon there was no room left to stand in the back of the room. Eventually, the expansive lobby was jam-packed enough to keep people outside the building.
The ceremony started with the sounds of MercyMe's "I Can Only Imagine" and a slideshow of family photos presented on two flat-screen TVs up front.
Tears. Grown men weeping.
Jeremy was the consummate professional and took his work very seriously. But he turned down some top bowl assignments during the holidays to stay home with his family.
Maryann was the first to hear the popping noise of a fire that started at approximately 4:20 a.m. Trying to save the house, he attempted to move a gasoline container away from a blaze engulfing the back porch. It exploded. Jeremy immediately caught fire. Maryann helped extinguish the flames with a blanket and then hurried Jeremy and the kids out of the house.
'A genuine soul'
For 29 days, Jeremy survived with burns over 95 percent of his body.
Those who know Jeremy have had trouble sleeping this last month. Minds wander at work.
But the spirit of a proud former Goose Creek High School Gators football player endures.
"For 29 days in the hospital … That's a long time … He was a fighter," said Rebecca Ard, Jeremy's sister and one of three siblings who spoke to the overflow crowd at the funeral. "He heard your prayers."
Jimmy Shultz said he is proud to know his little brother "was so happy doing what he was doing" and reminded us to put family disagreements aside before it's too late.
Rachel Campbell, Jeremy's other sister, talked about tenderness.
Once he rescued a turtle from the middle of a road. Another time he let a rabbit live in his car.
Part of the prime-time sports event camera gig was getting to eat at nice restaurants in big cities and fun college towns. Jeremy frequently asked for a to-go box to offer the first homeless person he could find.
"He was one of a kind," Rebecca said. "A genuine soul."
Jeremy's friends have come through with some wonderful fundraising events, but there are still bills and needs.
See jeremysfund.org to make tax-deductible contributions.
Gift cards might be a good idea, too.
The family also suggests contributions to the Joseph. M. Still Burn Center in Augusta, in lieu of flowers.
There were seven huge floral arrangements around Jeremy's coffin, including a dark blue star to celebrate his love for the Dallas Cowboys.
One football season, Jeremy wore his Jason Witten jersey often enough to earn an "82" nickname. Jeremy thought I went over the line the time I informed him the Cowboys had just named Joe Gibbs head coach.
"Not funny," he said, before breaking into that typical Jeremy smile.
Now you know why his 3-year-old son is named Dallas.
Wouldn't you know it? The big game this week. In Dallas.
"He's got the best seat in the house to watch the Super Bowl," Jeremy's sister Rachel told the mourners. "But he'll be there at home watching with Dallas, too."
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5593.