‘Phillip was too young’

sgilman@newsobserver.comMarch 7, 2014 

Even the heavens were weeping.

On a raining Monday morning, dozens of mourners stowed wet umbrellas and filled the wooden pews at Little Creek Primitive Baptist Church near Clayton. They sat in solemn silence broken only by the sound of quiet crying and remembered the life of Phillip Stephen Olive.

He was 43.

“I don’t like this today,” the Rev. Steve Morris said to the stricken audience tucked inside the tidy church. “And when I don’t like something God does, I tell him. Phillip was too young. He should have lived to be 80 or 90.”

But some, tragically, die young. Around 10 a.m. on Feb. 28, Olive was operating an excavator on the 12000 block of Buffalo Road near Clayton.

“They were clearing land, and I guess the tree he was trying to pull over snapped and crushed him,” said Tammy Amaon, spokeswoman for the Johnston County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. “When it snapped, it fell down on top of the trackhoe.”

It wasn’t for Olive’s lack of skill.

“He was experienced in what he did,” Morris said. “It was one of those crazy things you couldn’t have planned for.”

Morris knew Olive as a young boy and remembers him as a “quiet, stable kind of guy.” Olive’s family, he said, is close-knit and loved the gentle soul a great deal. Friends and family flocked to his visitation, funeral and burial.

“He was extremely well thought of,” Morris said.

At the funeral, rain poured outside and a soft light came through the stained-glass windows of the church. A display of crimson roses splashed color over Olive’s dark-blue casket.

Morris stood and said he had prepared a number of things to say but decided against all of it.

“Because none of it really matters except, ‘In whom have they placed their trust?’” he said, adding, “When I think of Phillip, quiet, gentle, caring guy, I don’t think he would have wanted a whole lot being said.”

As if he could sense the grief of the crowd, Morris spoke on the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, how he wept when his loved ones wept. Then he said: “I’m glad he was a good man. I’m glad he was a good mate. But I’m glad he had given his life to the Lord Jesus.”

After the ceremony, a long line of cars heralded by the flashing red and blue lights of a Clayton police car traveled slowly to Knollwood Memorial Park for the burial. Friends and family pressed together as close as they could beneath their umbrellas around a tent shielding Olive’s casket from the rain. After Morris offered a brief prayer, the crowd slowly dispersed.

Olive is survived by his father and stepmother, James P. “Tip” and Donna Olive; his mother and stepfather, Linda L. and Bobby Spence; his companion, Sandra Cooper; two brothers, Marcus Olive and Robert Spence; and a sister, Tammy Decker.

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