Black ribbons covered the badges of firefighters and law enforcement Thursday as the news of the death of long-time Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton spread.
Seaton, 65, worked for Smith County for 27 years and served as the county's fire marshal since the 1999-2000 fiscal year, when he took the helm from Charles Shine, who also died while in office.
Seaton, a Marine veteran who served in Vietnam as a sergeant, lost his two-year battle with cancer on Thursday.
"In a lot of ways I was closer to Jim than my own brother because I had more contact with Jim. I worked with Jim for 21 years, but we've been friends for 30-plus years," Assistant Fire Marshal Oren Hale said Thursday.
Hale said he'd never met anyone who didn't like Seaton and said his friend was the type of person who could draw everyone together.
While the mood was somber in the office, Hale said his friend had a sense of humor that kept everyone in stitches.
"I think back and there's been so many, but right now I can think of more jokes he played on others than he did on me. I can remember him standing a ladder up in the air and trying to get Connie (Assistant Fire Marshall Connie McCoy Wasson) to climb up it and look over a wall that was standing there. He would catch you under a home or something and would yell out ‘snake' or ‘look at that rat,' and it would cause you to bump your head," he said.
In the next room, county fire chiefs and other fire marshals and staff worked diligently to plan the perfect memorial service for a man they respected, loved and called friend.
"Jim was a lot more than fire marshal to a lot of people," Hale said.
Smith County Judge Joel Baker classified Seaton as a dedicated man who will be hard to replace.
"I've worked with him closely over the past 7 1/2 years as he was my emergency management coordinator, and I never had to worry about that piece of the puzzle. I don't know if anyone could ever fill his shoes," he said.
Hale said his friend's work ethic was hard to rival.
"When Jim should have been looking after Jim, he was looking after the county," Hale said. "You could tell he was feeling bad and was sometimes in pain, but he had a job to do and he wanted to make sure that job got done."
The Tyler Morning Telegraph will post funeral arrangements once they are made.