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Roy Leo Veirs died a fighter on Nov. 10.
The 47-year-old dairy farmer battled a rare and painful cancer for three years. And during those years of treatments, tests and hospitalizations, he maintained a smile on his face, a great faith in God and no trace of self-pity.
The way he led his life – during the good years and the bad – left an impact on many people, as evidenced by the large crowd that converged on the funeral home after his death.
“I can’t imagine how much pain he was in,” said his daughter Amanda Bales. “But he never complained or said ‘why me?’”
Last week, Beverly Veirs, Roy’s wife of 27 years, and their daughters gathered at their home outside Hodgenville to console each other, write a few thank you notes and remind each other of happier times.
They spoke of Roy’s great loves. There is Beverly, of course, whom he met and courted in junior high. She still has the love letters he wrote her 35 years ago.
There are his daughters: Amanda, now a middle school teacher, and Melissa Veirs (he called her “Meliss”), who is studying to be a dental hygienist. Their education was important to Roy and he beamed when he spoke of their accomplishments.
There were his dogs – Dutchess, she of one blue eye and one brown eye, and Kenzie, who loved to go for rides in his pickup truck. The Australian shepherds peek inside the house when the door opens, perhaps looking for their master.
And there was the farm. Roy learned about hard work and developed a stubborn streak on his parents’ farm, according to Beverly. He eventually became partners in the dairy business – an operation known for long hours and intense dedication – with his brother Clyde.
“I think farming is what kept him going as long as he did,” said Melissa.
When Roy’s disease was diagnosed, word quickly spread through the farming community. Neighbors began stopping by to offer help; others organized workdays. They set tobacco, cut hay and chopped silage.
The women struggled to remember the long list of all those who helped: Billy Meredith, Pat Heath, Jarrod Heath, Mark Rock, Donnie Buchanan, Billy, Zak and Eli Meredith, Gary Ray, Jimmy Williams, Steve Berry, Ben Graham, Steve Sheffer, Stanley Basham and Ethan Hutchinson. For every name, they recalled a story of kindness and generosity towards their family.
“It’s amazing how farmers in this community stick together,” said Melissa. “I think they have a special bond.”
“It killed him to sit there and watch (others working),” she added.
Neighbor Wayne “Popeye” Graham began arriving at the dairy barn between 4 and 5 a.m. every day to milk. The retired dairy farmer knew the operation and Roy trusted him with the cows.
“He just jumped in and did it,” said Melissa.
“I don’t know of anyone else who would do what he did,” added Beverly.
It was a sad day for the family and the farming community when Roy and Clyde decided to sell their 53 dairy cows two months ago. They were two of the few remaining dairy farmers in the county. But, the work was simply too hard for Roy as his health deteriorated.
“It was just as hard for us to sell them as it was for him,” said Amanda. “That’s what we had known our whole lives.”
Melissa, a talented photographer, captured an image of her father looking over the herd for the last time. Although he was very sick that day, he went to the barn and helped with the last milking.
The neighbors showed up with trailers, loaded the cows and took them to market in Smith’s Grove. Roy attended the sale and was pleased when Rock purchased five of the cows to add to his own herd.
“I think it gave Dad some comfort knowing five of his cows were right down the road,” said Melissa.
Beverly thinks even the cows had regrets about leaving. When the animals were brought into the seller’s ring, “they stopped and looked right at Roy.”
Other neighbors helped Roy keep up his spirits by calling and sending cards. People who had heard of his illness, but had never met him, offered encouragement.
Roy said the attention was “very humbling,” according to Melissa.
Beverly, who remains in the farm partnership with Roy’s brother Clyde, plans to stay on the farm and concentrate on getting the rest of the tobacco stripped this fall. Beyond that, she’s not sure.
Melissa will stay in school. Amanda plans to keep teaching.
The three said they will continue to work toward a cure for cancer through the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. They began a team “Keep the Faith” in honor of Roy last year and plan to raise funds with monthly raffles for next year’s event.
Roy was able to attend the Relay last May. He accepted a survivor’s medal and walked the survivor’s lap. The next morning, he was taken to the hospital. The pain was so intense, he was flown to Vanderbilt in Nashville for treatment.
“He walked that lap and trailed behind everybody,” Amanda said. “But he did it.”
“He was smiling and patting someone else on the back,” Melissa added. She was able to catch the image on film.
As the family faces its first Thanksgiving without Roy, they concentrate on the years they had with him and the faith that keeps them together.
There is anger – but it is focused.
“When I feel angry, I feel angry at the disease,” said Amanda. “Every family is affected by it.”
They had prayed for a cure for Roy – which they did not receive. But they were blessed with something else – the gift of time.
“The miracle was getting to keep him for three and a half years,” said Melissa.
“The miracle was getting to keep him for three and a half years.”
Melissa Veirs, about her father Roy