The Cowboy Rides Away: A Tribute to Author G.R. Hester, a True Legend

Sometimes during the process of writing a book, a genuine friendship is formed between the author and the freelancer. It’s an easy progression. You invest your time, energy, storytelling ability, and listening ear as someone tells you all about their life—hours and hours of stories. And then, weeks and months after the book’s publication, you continue checking up on each
other, calling just to talk about the day.

Planning the next time you’ll meet for coffee.

Except sometimes, the next coffee meeting never happens.

On Saturday morning, April 13, G.R. passed away. It wasn’t a surprise—the cancer had progressed rapidly—but it still stung. I’d visited with him in the hospital two nights earlier, invited by his daughter, Stacey, who knew we had formed a great friendship during and after the
process of getting his book edited and published last Spring. By the time I visited, he wasn’t able to speak. But he looked me in the eye and smiled. Over the next few hours, Lauren, another family friend, and I sat with him, playing George Strait songs and anticipating his needs. As I held his hand and tried to comfort him, he squeezed it several times. I knew he knew I was there. And that was enough for me. It was truly an honor to be included in the circle of guests. And when I left his room that night, I knew it would be the last time I saw him.

Death comes for us all, but it’s rarely talked about in the business of book publishing. What happens when a client passes away? What do you do with the files and the text message thread that will never again be answered? How do you reconcile all the time spent together,
telling stories, laughing at turns of phrase, and being present with someone who has a larger-than-life personality? I guess you keep on living as you did. Maybe with a touch more intentionality now and then. I’m moving horseback riding to the top of my list of things to learn. And the next time I’m at a Pow Wow, I’ll think of him. He was proud of his Native American heritage, blended with his Cowboy persona and lifestyle.
He didn’t give a damn what people thought of him. As a man in his late 70s who was a bounty hunter for over 40 years, he earned every bit of grit and respect that came his way. I especially admired his effortless Texas cursing, his Western style, and his kindness. Every time we spoke, he called me Sugar.

So today, I’m going to put on some George Strait songs and sit with my memories a while. For at least a few hours, I’m going to not give a damn what people think about me. I might even have a Jack and Coke for lunch. And this evening, when the sun is setting over my house and the sky is a perfect golden pink, I’m going to imagine him somewhere beyond, happy, healthy, and galloping a horse across a meadow. I’m especially going to remember how he called me Sugar.

Ride on, Cowboy. Ride on.

Shadow Man: True Stories from Forty Years as a Bounty Hunter by G.R. Hester