FullSizeRender (23)MILTON — Brad Paisley and Vince Gill sang about life and death. His daughter Stephanie, sobbing, said: “He loved y’all, more than words can say.” The eulogy was delivered by Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association.

For nearly two hours Tuesday, Northwest Florida mourned the death of Greg Evers, who had deep Panhandle roots and represented the area for 15 years in the Legislature until last year. A strawberry farmer, he died at 62 last week in a one-car accident in his hometown of Baker and leaves both parents, three children and three grandchildren.

“‘Hey, Sugar, how you doin’?’” Evers’ pastor, Alton Nixon, described how the tall, strapping politician with the toothy grin would greet people, imitating Evers’ smile and his drawl. And at a sign of trouble, a friend recalled, Evers would say, ”It’s all gonna work out.”

Evers, known as ”Bull,” was remembered for his support for increased pay for correctional officers, Second Amendment rights, and finding affordable housing for ex-offenders. But most tributes were about his personal traits.

“He was a down-to-earth, God-fearing farmer,” Hammer said. “Rolling around in the dirt, trying to repair a tractor, or in a nice suit and high-polished cowboy boots.”

Hammer, describing Evers’ politics as ”probably a little to the right of me,” recalled that he called her one day in 1991, near the end of a special House election, when he didn’t have the NRA’s support in one of the state’s most conservative districts.

“‘No hard feelings, but I’m gonna win this election,’” Hammer recalled Evers saying, calling her ”Miss Marion.” He won, they became friends and Evers never worried about the NRA’s endorsement again. “If he said it, he meant it,” Hammer said.

In Tallahassee, Evers made unannounced visits to state prisons, supported a reform of the state’s sentencing laws, and wasn’t bashful about calling out Gov. Rick Scott.

The moving service for Evers at the First Baptist Church of Milton reflected the close-knit character of Northwest Florida. Leaving church, some said his sudden death was another painful but important reminder about the precariousness of life.

Hundreds of townsfolk attended as did a group of Republican leaders that included three Senate presidents, Joe Negron, Andy Gardiner and Don Gaetz; U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz; two candidates for governor, Sen. Jack Latvala and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam;  Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis; and about a dozen Republican senators.

Evers didn’t shy from controversy. In an unsuccessful bid for Congress last year, he gained unwanted national attention when, days after the Pulse nightclub shootings, he offered to raffle off a weapon similar to the one used in the massacre in Orlando.

At the time of his death, Evers was said to be looking for a path back to politics, maybe as a candidate for a school board or sheriff. Don Gaetz said he last saw Evers a few weeks ago at a restaurant in Destin. ”He had a big smile on his face and he said, ’I need to talk to you about politics,’” Gaetz said.