Well over 1,000 friends and family of Tucker Hipps gathered Sunday at Rock Springs Baptist Church to remember a promising young man taken just as his adult life was beginning.
Hipps, 19, was found dead in Lake Hartwell near the Clemson University campus last Monday after disappearing from an early morning run with his Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brothers.
Sunday’s services were about the young man’s life, however. His parents, Cindy and Gary, were surrounded by relatives and friends, including Tucker Hipps’ fraternity brothers and comrades from Boys State. Most of the floral arrangements were orange, depicting his lifelong devotion to the Clemson Tigers.
Rock Springs pastor David Gallamore addressed the loss straight on. “This time last Sunday, Tucker was here with us in body and spirit ... as surreal as that seems now,” said Gallamore.
Mike Anderson raised his family next door to the Hipps family for much of Tucker’s childhood. His young neighbor was quite a fan of spaghetti and always had a story for the Andersons.
“Tucker was a great kid; Tucker had that ‘swag’ at 5 years old,” said Anderson. “You were in Tucker’s world ... you saw this big smile and – as he got closer and closer – you felt happiness.”
Anderson, a garnet-and-black supporter, expressed his respect for the young man by wearing a “borrowed” Tiger orange tie to Sunday’s services.
“If Tucker could be here today, I bet he could call every one of us by name,” Anderson said.
That positive force was evident when Hipps participated in Boys State, according to Tom Meritt, who runs the annual summer program based at Anderson University. The camp director was especially impressed with Hipps’ bid for office that week.
“His campaign slogan was ‘Hipps don’t lie!’ ... He won and I’ll tell ya, he excelled that week,” said Merritt.
Merritt teared up recalling a phone call Hipps made to his mother. He asked her to send him more clothes, which led her to remind him that he had probably overpacked for that week.
“ ‘The clothes are for another boy,’” Merritt recalled Hipps saying. “In that moment, we got to see the character he was when nobody was looking.”
Merritt called up the young men who attended Boys State with Hipps, and they formed a semicircle in front of the altar. Merritt said they had all looked forward to him coming back as a counselor.
“It’s not right that he’s not going to be with them again,” Merritt said.
Merritt didn’t forget the Sig Eps, who went as a group to Sunday’s services and burial. He acknowledged their loss, too, calling them Hipps’ “other brothers.”
The two-hour service concluded with a trip across the road from the megachurch to an adjacent cemetery, with the hearse trailed by hundreds of mourners and final words at the gravesite.
Oconee County sheriff’s investigators have yet to determine what happened, but Sheriff Mike Crenshaw has stated that there is no indication of foul play. University and national fraternity officials are also looking into the matter.