OAKWOOD — It was not your typical memorial service, but probably one that Tom Deitz would have wanted.
Mourners fought back tears as they delivered eulogies about their friend and colleague.
They also roared in laughter as they also recalled in vivid detail Deitz’s life and many interests, which varied from writing fantasy fiction to playing kapucha toli, a traditional Native American stickball game.
"Every one of us has a story to tell," said one of his close friends, Ashley Goodin, to a standing-room-only audience that had gathered Sunday afternoon for a celebration of Deitz’s life.
Deitz, 57, died from heart complications last Monday. Sunday’s ceremony took place at Gainesville State College, where he was an assistant professor of English.
Deitz was best known as the author of "Windmaster’s Bane," a 1986 fantasy novel that chronicled the adventures of a young Georgia man named David Sullivan. Deitz went on to have 18 more novels published, many featuring the Sullivan protagonist.
A 20th anniversary revision of his first novel was printed in 2006, earning Deitz accolades as Georgia Author of the Year for Young Adult Fantasy. In 2007, he received the Phoenix Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Southern Fandom Confederation.
During Sunday’s 1«-hour ceremony in the student center ballroom, speaker after speaker recalled Deitz’s love for literature, specifically the works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
He also was remembered for his gregarious personality, passion for life and sometimes biting wit.
Brad Strickland, a longtime friend, colleague and fellow fantasy writer, put on a blue flowery shirt that he said he wore a couple years ago at a faculty picnic.
"Tom came up to me and said, ‘Professor Strickland, that is a cool shirt. Only you’re not cool enough to wear it,’" Strickland said, drawing laughter from the crowd.
"He never lost his sense of humor. I could tell you so many stories."
Friends said Deitz knew for several months that he was terminally ill and approached his final days with grace and dignity.
Strickland said Deitz even joked about his own passing.
The two friends had talked about Deitz’s cremation.
"He had asked me to arrange it as cheaply as possible, and we did so. And he asked what would be the price. I told him the final price and he said, ‘Now, does that include everything?’" Strickland said.
The ceremony also featured Arthur Hinds strumming a guitar and singing the lively "Tom Deitz on the Faerie Road," stomping his right foot on a final repeat of the chorus.
After the speakers had given their tributes and mourners were asked to keep Deitz’s memory alive, the throng of people left the ballroom and headed to a plaza area outside the student center.
There, they sang the gospel standard "I’ll Fly Away" and released balloons into the sky.