published Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Bledsoe County pastor recalls tornado victims

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    The graves of April 27, 2011, tornado victims Harold and Debbie Fox in the Hendon Community Cemetery are marked by wreaths and a mourning angel.
    Photo by Ben Benton.
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The storms, rebuilding and recollections

Pitts Gap Church of God pastor Leroy Smith knows most of the folks on Brayton Mountain, usually as neighbors, by passing acquaintance or through his church.

At times he helps them get through troubled times or sometimes celebrate happy events, he said.

While he didn't know them well, he served in a distinctive position in the lives of Harold and Debbie Fox, two of the four Bledsoe County residents who died in the April 27, 2011, EF4 tornado that hit Pitts Gap.

Smith married them 11 years ago, then laid them both to rest on May 2, 2011, five days after their lives were claimed in the darkness.

"It kind of touches your heart," Smith said last week. "It hurts to see them joined together in marriage and then having to preach the funeral."

He remembers their wedding being a festive occasion held outside at Debbie's stepfather's home, "and you could just tell they had great love for one another," he said.

"I think they had a big cookout that day, too, for the family," he recalled.

Debbie's only sister, DeDe Stone, told the Times Free Press last June that the pair were "soulmates."

When they married, Harold Fox, who was from Atlanta, moved to Pitts Gap, where they made their home with horses, five Jack Russell terriers and a small pond full of fish, Stone said.

When their bodies were discovered by rescuers, Harold Fox still was clinging to his wife.

Today, the driveway to their home leads to a pasture with little sign of the lives that were ended there a year ago.

Smith described the atmosphere at their funerals as being filled with great sorrow.

"I know the community sure misses them," he said. "This was really a tragedy."

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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