by Emily Waldrep
Three tragic car accidents in Texas have taken three respected members of Tyler County from the community this summer and the county is mourning the loss of these influential and beloved men.
Buddy Wilkinson died in a car accident on July 19 in Longview, Texas. Wilkinson was the father of three children and had five grandchildren. According to his daughter, Danasa Rawls, he was very involved with his kids, grand kids and Tyler County.
"Beauty pageants, dance recitals, cow shows, baseball games and football games, no matter what was going on, Daddy was there," Rawls said. "He took us deer hunting, coon hunting, truck riding, fishing and even camping in the back of a lowboy trailer filled with haybales and blankets."
Wilkinson also coached little league, served on the school board and hosted numerous benefits at his farm.
"We will always continue to help our little town because that is what he would have wanted us to do," Rawls said.
Wilkinson had a huge passion for his five grandchildren – Kaleb, Hunter, Sunnie Madison, Ty and Rankin Tuff. "He was all about his grandkids," his son, Matt Wilkinson said.
"They made that man turn into mush," Rawls added.
Wilkinson was married to his wife, Janice, in 1969 and they would celebrate 45 years of marriage together.
Wilkinson joined the Army and served from 1969 to 1973 and served his country in the Vietnam War. He received a purple heart and congressional medal of honor. Wilkinson began as an infantry man and later became a machine gun operator, then went back for a second tour and was made crew chief.
He also owned several Tyler County Businesses, G&W Logging, W&G Trucking and NAPCO.
"God broke the mold when he made my Daddy," Rawls said. "There are parts of him in myself and my brothers. He was proud of his family and we are proud of him."
James "Jim" Nichols died in a three-car accident near Doucette on July 16 that caused his death and injured one other driver.
According to his wife, Elaine Nichols, Jim was a strong, hard man with a soft, warm heart who loved his grandchildren and made sure they all knew.
"Jim was always there to help out anyone in the community," Nichols said. "He would help neighbors bail hay, let someone borrow a trailer or try to teach the local boys the importance of hard work. In his younger years he participated in Dogwood and Western Weekend, and was an avid rider."
His family says that they believe Nichols would say that his greatest accomplishment was his family. He had five children, 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. "He celebrated with us at graduations, marriages and births," Nichols said.
Jim Nichols was known by many within Tyler County and made a difference in many people's lives.
"I can definitely say he influenced numerous individuals within the county," said Nichols. "He was also there to offer guidance and assist anyone. He always saw the best in people, no matter what they had done in their past and I believe that helped a lot of people."
Danny Self died on June 28 near Hillister in a car accident. For years, he was an influential businessman in Tyler County, but his family says he was first and foremost a family man.
"He loved his wife and children, but his grandchildren were the reason that he got out of bed every morning," Lorrie Johnston said. "He loved spending time with his 'kids.'"
Self lost his right leg in 1981 in an oilfield accident, but he felt that he had to show the world and himself that he could still do what he wanted to do, from riding a bike to flying an airplane to becoming the first amputee to graduate from the Kilgore Police Academy.
"Being able to help others was a passion of his," Johnston said. "He was someone you could count on and he always put others before himself. If you went to him with a problem he would do everything he could to solve it."
His family says they will cherish the wonderful memories that they have of him until they see him again.