Richard E. Brunson Sr., who served his country for 22 years and his family for more than half a century, died Tuesday, April 29, at his home in Orlando. He was 76. The cause was an apparent heart attack.
Mr. Brunson had just dropped off his wife of 53 years, Jo, at Pershing Elementary School where she was a retired school teacher and still volunteers twice weekly, tutoring students and assisting teachers. He returned to their home nearby to do some work in his office when he collapsed.
Together, their lives were melded by a common bond of service to their family and community. Both lived in the Conway area of south Orlando for most of their lives.
Mr. Brunson was a retired Master Sergeant in the U.S. Air Force where he served as a military police officer and a personnel officer. In retirement, he was an insurance agent and mortgage broker and served as president of his neighborhood homeowners association. His wife was an Orange County Public School teacher for 21 years. Together they raised a family consisting of two sons: Rick, a journalism instructor at the University of Central Florida, and Michael, also an Air Force veteran and a sales director at Disney Vacation Club.
Mr. Brunson was born April 13, 1938, in Charleston, South Carolina, where he attended Chicora High School. He joined the Air Force in 1957 right after high school and was soon sent to his first duty station, Kadena Air Base, in Okinawa, Japan.
After he returned to the States, he met and married the former Jo Savary in 1959 while he was stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base in South Carolina. They married in Charleston on Halloween night while he was on a three-day leave.
The Brunsons moved to Central Florida in 1964 when he was sent to McCoy Air Force Base, south of Orlando. The City Beautiful became “home base,’’ the place he and his family would return after calls of duty at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and at airbases in Canada, Missouri and Nebraska. During the Vietnam War, Mr. Brunson was stationed at Utapao Air Base in Thailand.
He retired from active duty in 1979 at Strategic Air Command headquarters, Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska.
He returned to Orlando and joined Liberty National Life Insurance Company, from which he eventually retired for a second time in 1998.
In retirement, Mr. Brunson returned to school, earning an associate in arts degree from Valencia Community College. He also focused on helping his wife in her role as a public school teacher at Pershing Elementary, where he also served on the School Advisory Committee and did everything from chaperoning field trips to serving as the school’s interim janitor.
A devoutly religious man, Mr. Brunson’s life philosophy was summed up in the words of St. Paul in Romans 12 of the New Testament: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment … We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. … Love sincerely, hate what is evil, cling to what is good. Honor one another above yourselves. ... Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of a low position. Do not be conceited.’’
In addition to his career and family, Mr. Brunson’s interests included shooting sports, fishing and general tinkering. He fancied himself a handy man and could fix nearly anything. In his later years, he gained an intense interest in the art of barbecue, experimenting with various grills, smokers, meats and sauces, to the delight of his family.
In addition to his wife and sons, he is survived by his brother, Robert A. Brunson of Charleston; sisters, Mary Brinson, Roberta Combs and Patricia Brunson, all of Charleston. His grandchildren include Stephanie Brunson, Adam Brunson and Tiffanie Brunson, all of Orlando, and Rachel Miller and her husband, Army Spc. Ray Miller of Savannah, Georgia. He also is survived by daughters-in-law Ruthe Brunson and Jan Brunson of Orlando, as well as numerous other in-laws, cousins, nieces and nephews.