John Wilbanks Memorial Speech

SPO John Wilbanks lost his long battle with COVID-19 on 10/13/21

Good Morning.

I am Sgt. Bryan Dudley with the Pasadena Police Department.

Mark Twain once said “ Let us live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry”.

Isn’t that correct, Phillip? John Did just that.

What can I say about John that you don’t already know? Probably not much, so I’m just going to tell you some stories about John, our friendship and what he meant to me.

I met John in high school briefly, but we did not re-connect until about 12 years ago when he was working Southeast and I was on Motors (solos). It was almost like we never had been apart the immediate connection. We became fast friends because, I mean, how could you NOT like John? Loyal, quick-witted, hysterically funny. He really was larger than life.

Whether we were running escorts together, fishing, hunting or just simply shooting the breeze in his driveway, John always made me laugh. And when I say laugh, I am not talking about a little bit. I’m talking the kind of laughter that hurts your stomach. Bonny Clarke once said, “A good laugh is like taking your liver for a horseback ride.” If you know you know.

John served in the capacity of Police Officer for almost 30 years doing what a lot of us calls “God’s work.” His last duty station was the Marine Division and was by far one of his favorites.

The book of Mathew says, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.” John was blessed with family and friends, but most of all, he was blessed with a peaceful and gentle soul.

As I have already mentioned, John was quick-witted. Every day he would call me on the phone just to insult me (in typical cop fashion) , or just to say something funny and/or stupid and then hang up. Other times he would call to make lunch arrangements or just an overall welfare check.

So this one time John….Oh wait, I can not tell that story. So there was this other time that John……Oh wait, I cannot tell that story, either.

I remember when John was selected to go to the Marine Division and me being the jokester I am, I was going to call him to insult him like we commonly did. So I called and asked for Forrest. Without missing a beat, John replied in the famous For rest Gump accent, “ I may not be a smart man, Jenny, but I know how to be a shrimp boat captain.” John then continued on this tirade, maintaining the Forrest Gump voice for over five minutes, I finally had to hang up on him.  As I was driving down the road thinking about this phone conversation, I was like “man what is wrong with this guy?” But then quickly I came to the realization that John had just gotten one over on me by keeping me on the phone.

One time I had left my marked patrol unit in his driveway and within an hour I received a text message with a photo that read “one wrong move and this goes viral.” In this photo was my marked unit and hanging on the rear sideview mirror was a pair of dirty underwear.

John truly cared about his friends. Last year I was involved in a serious motorcycle accident. John was there for me and my family. Me being confined to a wheelchair, he had learned that I could not enter or leave my residence due to a step making access impossible. John, without being asked, came to my residence, measured the step and built me a wheelchair ramp where I could come and go without assistance. John was a handyman and if he could not fix it, he pretended he could.

I can also tell you about the time he literally saved a mutual friend’s life because he had not heard from him for a day and began to worry about him. He called me and other friends wanting to know if anyone had had contact with this friend. When no one replied that they had talked with this friend, John drove to his residence in another city and immediately realized something was wrong. John ended up forcing entry into this residence and found our friend unconscious, laying underneath a bookcase that had toppled over on him. This friend was taken to a hospital where he received the medical treatment he needed, thus saving his life.

The morning I received the phone call that John had passed, I was driving to the deer lease. The reality of the news did not really set in until I got home later that evening. As the night got later and later, I began to worry about John’s salvation. We talked about friends, family, hunting, work, etc., but we never really talked about spiritual things. Now, I don’t know where your heart lies spiritually, but the guilt of not making sure my good friend weighed in on me like and anchor sinking into the silt. I prayed that God would please give me a sign, any sign, that john was with Him.

About 1 a.m., my wife came into the livingroom and said what many wives have said before:  “You need to get some rest.” So, I resistantly trudged off to bed thinking sleep would evade me. The next morning, I woke up around 10 a.m. and I immediately remembered a dream that gave me an Instant grin. John had indeed showed up in a dream. Now, you may be thinking  blah that’s just your mind playing tricks on you or: he was on your mind so you dreamed about him.

This all could be, but I couldn’t deny the JOHNESS of the dream when he said, “I am great. I’m fine.” And then John looked down at his feet, sticking out his lower lip like he so often did and said, “They are making me go to Bible study for four hours a day.” With that he looked up at me and gave me that laugh that John ALWAYS had after he said something he thought was funny. You know the John laugh. He then said, “I got to go” and he turned and left. So, I don’t know if you need a sign, but the dream is what I refer to as a God-wink.

There are so many more stories about John and our friendship as I know a lot of you also have them. One of the laws of physics is that energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only changes forms. So, I know the spirit that made up the John we know and love is not gone.  Death may be the final victor for our flesh, but it can’t hold the captive spirit….and man, did John have a big spirit!

The last thing John said to me when he was in the hospital is that he loved me. Women are pretty good at saying this, but men…it is something when a big tough police officer says, “I love you” to a friend.

Jennifer and family, thank you for letting me honor John today by being up here.  And John, farewell for now, and I love you too.