Who a person is and what he stands for is with him all the time. It is this presence which defines each of us as it also impacts the lives of those who know us. This truth is behind the impromptu decoration of Riley Torbett’s parking spot, number 130, at Marianna High School after the afternoon accident which took his life. Something within us wants to recognize those we hold dear at times such as these. His fellow seniors met to honor him by painting the spot Bulldog purple and putting their own gold handprints around the edges of the spot. They were careful, also, to honor the dream that Riley had had and talked about ever since he had begun missions trips as a very young boy. His plan was to become a medical doctor; he was not going to be in it “for the money” but to help the people in third world countries, especially Nicaragua. Dr. Torbett is inscribed upon the spot as a symbol of what the students are sure Riley would have done. One classmate said it best about Riley, “I will never begin to understand this, but I know it is His plan. You chased after God with a heart that most of us wish to have, and I can only imagine the joy you are feeling right now. I love and miss you Riley. I can’t wait to cheer on the Trojans for you.”
Rex and Dana Torbett, along with their extended family, reared a fine young man in Riley who was extremely well liked, loving, kind and funny. He was a constant witness to the Lord and his attractive personality with fun- loving ways helped others see the joy in serving the Lord.
Another social media posts talked of Riley’s love for God and his strong desire to help others, “Riley was one of those students who you just knew was going to change the world! He loved Jesus, missions (especially Nicaragua) and his family with his whole heart. He’s one of the students that no matter where ministry took us we would always look back and talk about. I know he’s face to face with Jesus tonight! What a joy that must be but what heartache it brings to many people here.”
Everyone who knew Riley for one split second knew immediately his love for God was above and beyond, “This young man was one of the biggest witnesses I have ever met, such a ray of Godly sunshine,” was echoed in a Facebook post.
An athlete who championed hard work, sportsmanship, and execution, he was a favorite among his own team members and players from other teams as well. That couldn’t have been stressed any louder than from the coach of a team he competed against and battled his last night as a Bulldog. Rickards head coach Brian Kelley left this on Twitter, “This young man sent me a message last night congratulating us and wishing us good luck in today’s Regional Final. He played for Marianna who we had 4 tense battles with and advanced by beating. He passed away today. My heart is broken. Prayers for his family and friends.”
That was Riley Torbett in a nutshell.
As humans, we do not understand the “whys” of such accidents and losses. We grieve. Some would say Riley’s death was meant to be. Others who know him and his faith will also grieve for the person they miss, the young man who will be “forever young.” Perhaps, in some ways and in some hearts, ideas will take shape that will eventually mean that his plans to help provide medical care in those areas where people are truly in need will be realized. Riley touched many lives and opened many hearts to the Lord. His influence may yet move others to support his lifelong dream. Riley gave all he had in everything he did, “From the moment I stepped foot in Evangel Worship Center I knew that was the place where God was plugging me into the body. The first person I met was Dana Torbett and we had an instant connection and fast friendship. I’ve had the absolute pleasure of bonding with her family and Austin, Riley Torbett and Caleb have impacted my life in a profound way and become nephews to me. Riley will always hold a special place in my heart. There is no doubt in my mind that you are basking in the presence of God at this very moment and what an honor it has been to know you. I’m so thankful I had the opportunity to cheer you on whether it was at your baseball games or last Sunday at church when we celebrated our graduating seniors. I will forever treasure the last moment I had with you Sunday after church when you hugged my neck and said, “Hi Grannie Jo!” Because that’s who you were. A loving, outgoing, funny, caring, wonderful young man. Tears pour down my face tonight for your family and all of us that have lost you too soon, but I take comfort in the fact that we have a savior in Jesus, the Christ, the son of the living God and I know you knew Him too and your spirit is praising Him as we speak. I look forward to the day our paths cross again Riley.”
I knew Riley through school, through sports, through his unending presence everywhere and this was indeed one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Riley was a friend to all and an enemy to no one. I close with what is a perfect description of Riley Torbett from Ariel Elizabeth who posted on Riley’s Facebook wall, “One night at youth, our pastor asked the question “what is love?”. Responses ranged from “strong affection towards someone” to “to care for something passionately”. The last response someone gave was “Riley”. At the time it seemed so silly, why would someone answer that question with someone’s name. But after thinking about it, it became so clear. Riley was love. He was someone you wanted to be around for the way he made you feel and the way he cared about you. He was such a genuine person with an even more genuine heart. He was a picture of Christ. I was so lucky to be a part of his life, to spend so much time with him. Although he may be gone from this earth, I find so much peace knowing he is with Jesus and that I will see him again one day. Forever my person. Forever my heart. Forever my boy. Fly high sweet boy.”
Riley leaves to cherish his memory, his parents, Rex and Dana Torbett, brothers Austin and Caleb and countless family and friends. His dad said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Rest in peace Michael Riley Torbett.