By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – Laughter mixed with tears as friends and family came together Saturday to celebrate the life of John Servati.
The 21-year-old Tupelo man and University of Alabama swimmer was killed Monday as storms hit Tuscaloosa. He died after freeing his girlfriend from a collapsed retaining wall that had trapped them in the aftermath of the storms.
Servati was remembered during Saturday’s service at Calvary Baptist Church for his infectious laugh, his passionate pursuit of swimming, his open, giving heart and his deep Christian faith.
“He was so full of life,” said his Tupelo swimming coach Lucas Smith, who told funny tales of coaching the young swimmer from ages 11 to 18 that had his Alabama Swim and Diving teammates chuckling. “It was like coaching Curious George.”
The Rev. Chad Thompson, who guided Servati as the student minister at Calvary Baptist Church, talked about how amazed he was by Servati’s dedication to swimming, his appetite for donuts and servant’s heart.
“He truly wanted the best for people,” Thompson said. “John didn’t have to be asked to serve.”
Just because Servati was handsome, intelligent, charming and funny doesn’t mean he had an easy path through his life.
“John is and was a heroic figure,” said friend Greg Evans in his eulogy. “He wasn’t a good Christian. He was a real Christian. He struggled.”
Servati was the target of bullies in high school. As his Christian faith deepened and matured during his college years, he wrestled with his own failures.
“John loved Jesus,” said Pastor Jeff Norris, director of Campus Crusade. “Just like you and me, he fought to love Jesus more than the world. Some days were better than others. He was hard on himself.”
Mom: ‘He’s my hero’
The story of Servati’s death made national news.
“The response has been unbelievable,” said his mother Janet Gaston, in an interview with the Daily Journal Friday. “He would be blown away by all of this.”
The stories from his friends in Tupelo and Tuscaloosa have been particularly touching for his family, Gaston said. So many people shared tales of how Servati made them laugh, donned a silly costume, defended them from bullies or shared a conversation of faith and hope.
John was always someone who looked for ways to build others up from an early age, she said. He was disciplined and responsible, dedicated to training and to his academics. He maintained a 3.55 grade point average at Alabama.
“John has had some really good role models,” Gaston said, especially his dad Al Servati, his stepdad John Gaston and Tupelo swim coach Lucas Smith.
The past six months had been tough in many ways for John. In November, he developed a repetitive motion injury in his shoulder. He ultimately had surgery in February which spelled the end of his competitive swimming days. In March, he suffered a concussion when he was hit by a car crossing the street.
But he had struggled through the difficulties and was looking forward to new opportunities, especially being selected for Campus Crusade’s summer project in Lake Tahoe, Calif.
“He’s my hero in every sense of the word,” Gaston said. “A friend told me, ‘John had the courage of a soldier and the soul of a saint.’ That is so true. That is him.”