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Pelion native, outdoor enthusiast, and hero to many passes away Monday night


Pelion, SC (Paul Kirby) – Jake Austin “Jake” Paul, 20, a native of the Pelion area, passed away Monday night after a long struggle with heart disease. The world is simply a little less bright without him.

Jake was a son, a brother, grandson, a friend, and so much more. To know him was to know grace and charm, kindness and tenderness, wisdom and understanding. He was a hero to a community which was a better place with him in it. He was admired by thousands.

Some of you who may not have known him might already be asking, “How can such a young man be all these things?” To Jake, being great just seemed to come natural to him; greatness was a big part of his fiber, of who he was. Please, stay with me a moment and let me explain.

First, Jake was a good looking young man. His mother and sister are both beautiful people, as was the rest of his family. Jake himself was just as nice looking as any guy can be. He wasn’t feminine pretty, in fact he was the exactly the opposite, he was a man’s man. He appeared rugged, yet his broad white smile dazzled you, his eyes captured you, and he wore jeans, camo, and Carhartts as if they were tailored for him. Jake could have easily been a male model in a sporting goods catalog; if he wore it you just felt like it had to look good on you too. I think part of the secret of his good looks was that his beautiful soul shined through from inside him, affecting those he came into contact with.

You could always tell that Jake was just raised right. He was what you would call an all-around good ol’ boy. Every time I saw him he’d greet me by saying, “Hey Mr. Paul, how’s things with you?” He never dropped the Mr., an important salutation of respect for an older gentleman in the south. He still held the door for a lady and showed respect for his elders.

In conversation, it was always yes sir or no sir, an outward example of his fine upbringing and the older southern manners his family taught, somehow lost by many young people in this day and time. His demeanor was one of casual respect; just by saying hello Jake made you feel better about yourself and who you were.

Jake loved his family. Years ago, he came to my house once to swim in the pool with one of my children. Often during these types of visits, I had to pry information from our young houseguests about their families. I think this a testament to the fact that often their parents, siblings, and others either aren’t very much to be proud of, or simply don’t interact with their child enough for the youngster to know anything about who they are or what they do.

This was not so in the case of Jake Paul. Jake loved to tell you about his dad and the work he did at SCE&G. He talked about what his mom was up to, and went on for hours about his family’s business of making and selling small “Sneak” boats for fishing. I heard about his grandma Brenda, the family’s bait and tackle shop, and everything else they did and do. This young man not only knew his family, but was proud of who they were, and who he was by default.

You can’t think of Jake without thinking about the outdoors and hunting and fishing. It seemed to be woven into his DNA, an integral part of who he was. Once in a conversation, a friend described another local young man who could catch a fish in a mud puddle. In the case of Jake Paul, he could catch a fish in a raindrop!

He loved the outdoors. He hunted and fished every chance he possibly could and was successful at it. Whether in a large group of friends, or slipping off in one of those Sneak boats alone, Jake could and did catch huger lunker bass, more hog bream, and more up past your wrist crappie than anyone I’ve ever met. He just knew the way they thought, what they liked to eat, and the best technique to haul them in.

He was the same way about hunting. He was an expert marksman and brought down hundreds of deer, ducks, squirrels, and just about every other type of game you can imagine. When Jake was in good health, you would regularly see photos of him and his best friend Andy Seay on social media with a table full of mallards, several bushy tailed gray squirrels, or a dozen or so doves brought down by the inseparable pair. Jake and Andy called each other brother because that’s what they were; brothers from another mother who somehow communicated silently, a skill they learned through hours of tromping through the woods together at each other’s side. They were like twins; sometimes you wondered if they physically felt each other’s pain.

Jake posed with so many whitetail deer it became old hat. After Jake got sick and his heart began to fail, folks began to fly him across the country for a chance to bring down some of the more prized and exotic species of our country. He’s fished with the guys from TV’s Hot Tuna series, posed casually for a picture with Jase Robertson of Duck Dynasty, and met many more famous for their outdoor acumen. In all these cases of meeting these huge outdoor legends, Jake wasn’t some star struck kid, he was their equal.

It’s the hardest for me to think about Jake after he got sick. Because we weren’t really close, just acquaintances, he always seemed so healthy when I’d bump into him, even after he wasn’t. In his early teens, Jake was diagnosed with heart disease; the type that weakens your heart until it has to be replaced or you’re eventually gone.

Jake faced this better than I would have. He was strong in spirit even when his body was weak. He smiled even when that took a massive physical effort. He was surrounded by family and friends when it could have been easy to understand just wanting some alone time to sulk.

Through it all, Jake placed his fears and his health in God’s hands. He was a lesson in faith to those who don’t have enough.

Thousands rallied around Jake and his family. They held bar-b-ques, poker runs, and every other type of fund raiser. Tens of thousands of dollars were raised and through it all, Jake remained himself, a humble, kind, great kid. He said thanks, but never sought the attention that was being heaped on him.

While he was sick, when he could, he still went fishing or hunting. He never lost that love, the desire to be outside among the tall pines, the massive oaks or on a body of water of any size or type. You couldn’t have removed that from him anymore than you could run the gnats out of Pelion; the two simply go together.

Eventually, by the grace of God and the grief of another family, Jake received a donor heart and a transplant was done. At first, it was the miracle we had all hoped and prayed for.

Within a few weeks, he was taking short day trips to fish in the Charleston harbor near the transplant hospital. Do you even have to ask; of course he was catching fish on these trips!

Within a few short months of receiving his new heart, Jake was somewhere out west on a trip, breaking ice on a pond to bring down ducks; something I don’t know if I could do in perfect health! I was envious of his spirit more than the opportunity to hunt or take the trips.

You saw Jake seemingly return to his before heart trouble best. Pictures of him casually standing at the helm of a boat like some L.L. Bean model, effortlessly plying the waters of a lake. There were fishing rods of all shapes and sizes in the background. The only thing that was different from the earliest days was a huge scar down the center of his chest; proof that he was here because of the grace of God, modern medicine, and a good team of doctors.

Often, you’d see Jake tool around town in his all black 4 x 4 Chevrolet. You couldn’t miss it as it passed because of the distinctive sticker in the back window. It was the horizontal, zig-zag line of an EKG monitor with words that let you know that the owner of that truck has been blessed by the greatest gift ever, the gift of a second chance through a new heart.

Later, Jake began to have some trouble again. I’ll not go into a lot of detail here. Suffice it so say his body began to reject the lifesaving heart that was keeping it going. Eventually, all the tests, the biopsies, treatments, and medicines couldn’t fight off the last and most inevitable action we’ll all one day face, death. Jake met that Monday with the courage and grace he met every other challenge. He crossed over the river Jordan, probably in a Sneak boat, and I bet he caught a few fish during the trip over!

He was probably met on the banks in heaven by his dad Mush. Mush Paul, a great outdoorsman himself with an incredible zest for life, passed away about a year ago. He too was a great friend to many and a phenomenal outdoorsman.

I can’t begin to imagine the pain Jake’s family is in. Larenda, Whitney, his brother John, his grandma Brenda, his granny; all must be in intense pain. A bright light has been snuffed out. Now only the memories of that beaming smile, that attitude of love and caring, and thoughts of those great days and nights they spent together can offer some comfort.

You could certainly ask why God, why did you take such a great person from us at such an early age? I’m sure God knew what he was doing when he called Jake home.

Perhaps God needed a great young man teaching future country boys just how to appreciate life. Jake could teach them how to wear a camo visor, where to put that big silver fish hook on the brim, how to shoulder a shotgun or throw a bait caster with deadeye accuracy into some lily pads.

Maybe God needed a guardian angel for some lost boy. A kid who never had a big brother to talk with him about girls, speak about the way that wind can affect a flight of doves, or why you don’t leave a trace when you come out of the woods. I know that Jake would be great at all that for sure.

Whatever he’s doing in heaven, you know he’s making it better with the great big smile that was always on his face. He’s comforting someone somewhere with a soft touch on their shoulder or a few words of encouragement. The world’s loss Monday was certainly heaven's gain.

A family visitation service will be held at Caughman-Harman Funeral Home’s Lexington Chapel onSaturday, February 25, 2017 from 1:00 p.m. until 4:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, Jake’s family request that donations be made in Jake's name to The Spanish Fly Memorial Foundation 22970 Overseas Hwy, Summerland Key, FL 33042 (josewejebefoundation.org) or The Outdoor Dream Foundation 220 Arnold Dr. Anderson, SC 29621. (outdoordream.org)

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