FALLING WATERS, W.Va. — David “Dave” Brechbill was the model for a healthy lifestyle, said Renee Brechbill, his wife of 23 years.
An exercise enthusiast, he made running and working out with weights a priority, along with healthy eating.
The “gentle giant” stood 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighed 220 pounds.
“There was not an ounce of fat on him,” Renee said. “He was the picture of health.”
On the evening of Monday, April 2, Dave had returned from a run, packed his lunch for the next workday and had just taken a shower when he collapsed. Renee found him within 15 minutes, called 911 and started CPR, but by the time the ambulance arrived, she said it was too late.
Dave’s cause of death will remain a mystery because the state of West Virginia will not conduct an autopsy since there was no foul play. Renee said the cost for a private autopsy would exceed $5,000, so she’s not going to have one done.
Still, she can’t imagine what caused her husband’s untimely death, and said there is no family medical history that they were concerned about. It had been at least three years since Dave had been to the doctor, but he didn’t see any reason to go if he wasn’t sick, Renee said.
“He was the poster child for healthy living,” Renee said. “He did everything right. He didn’t know what it felt like to have a headache or indigestion.”
Dave was born in Hagerstown and raised in Smithsburg. He died about two weeks before his April 17 birthday.
The 1975 Smithsburg High School graduate went on to earn an associate degree in mechanical engineering from Hagerstown Junior College.
It was in 1978, while working at Zayre Department Store on Dual Highway in Hagerstown, that he met Renee.
She and her first husband had a son and daughter — Allen Arrington lives in Chesterfield, Mich., and Tammi Staley lives in Hagerstown — but that marriage already had ended. There are four grandchildren.
Dave was in a bad relationship and Renee was a supportive friend throughout. Despite a 12-year age difference, they found common ground and started dating, although it took about a year of dating before they told co-workers. They dated for eight years before getting married.
“I was the original cougar when it wasn’t popular,” Renee said. “He was the oldest young man I ever met. We just clicked.”
She added that despite his maturity and financial stability at a young age, Dave still liked to have fun. He had a very calm temperament, though, and Renee can only recall him getting angry twice in the 31 years she knew him.
If there was an argument to be made, Dave deferred to Renee, whose career in customer service helped her in that area.
“He didn’t argue or fight. He was so positive. He was so even-kiltered,” Renee said. “He didn’t have a bad word to say about anybody. He always brought peace and calmness to every situation.”
Following Zayre, Dave worked at Grove Manufacturing, Jerr-Dan Corp. and Pangborn Corp., before landing a job three years ago at Newell Rubbermaid in Winchester, Va., where he was supervisor of technical support, working in quality control.
“A co-worker at the viewing said Dave was the go-to guy and his presence is already missed,” Renee said.
She added that Dave affected everyone he met and that people from every job he worked at were at the viewing. His smile was mentioned often in the lengthy list of online condolences.
“It’s just amazing how much he was loved,” Renee said.
Dave had been offered a move to Georgia to keep his Pangborn job, but didn’t want to leave his 80-year-old mother, who still lives in Smithsburg, Renee said. His mother is struggling with his death.
“She just doesn’t understand why her 54-year-old healthy son has passed,” said Janet Venneri, Dave’s sister.
Janet, who said she is the mirror image of Dave, and her husband, Sam, live in Middletown, Md. Dave also is survived by a brother, Daniel Brechbill, who lives in Smithsburg.
After Dave and Renee married, they moved to Boonsboro with Allen, who was 13, and Tammi, who was 6. They lived there until they moved to Falling Waters in 2003.
Dave loved family life with Renee’s children and then grandchildren.
“He lived kids through my two,” Tammi said.
Renee said after granddaughter Kayla Staley, now 16, was born, they laid her on Dave’s chest and she gripped his finger.
“She had him forever from then on,” Renee said. “The bond was unbelievable.”
Kayla called him “Pappy Dave” or “Pap.” She spent three or four days a week at the Brechbills’ home and Kayla and Pap had their own special routines.
It was Chase, a kitten from one of Kayla’s cat’s litters, who also stole Dave’s heart and became a part of the Brechbill family.
On school days, Dave set an old-fashioned alarm clock to wake Kayla, putting it in a different place each night, because he knew she had a hard time getting up. They allowed 10 minutes for breakfast, which could be as nontraditional as leftover chicken wings, pizza or spaghetti, followed by a “power walk” to catch the bus when she was in middle school.
Kayla, a junior at Clear Spring High School, recently had learned that she was accepted to the U.S. Naval Sea Cadet Corps, and she said Pap was excited to be helping her train for the physical fitness test, although she admitted she couldn’t keep up with him.
Kayla’s younger brother, Kade Staley, just turned 9, and all he wanted for his birthday was to have his Pap back, Tammi said.
“He was a great person, teacher, mentor,” Tammi said. “He wasn’t just a dad. He was a friend.”
The Brechbills liked to travel and went to Las Vegas two to three times a year, as well as Atlantic City.
“We were gambling fools. What can I say,” said Renee, who added they didn’t smoke or drink.
While Dave prized a healthy lifestyle, Renee wasn’t a fan of exercise or cooking. Dave would have preferred more home-cooked meals, but the couple compromised with a weekly schedule that included a few meals at home and set nights out at favorite restaurants.
“He was a great husband. He did everything he could to please me,” Renee said. “I know how lucky I was. I don’t know if there’s another Dave out there.”
Family time, whether cookouts, a game of cards or playing with the grandchildren, was important to Dave.
“He loved family time,” Renee said. “If the kids asked him to do something, he’d jump up and do it.”
Kayla said she and Pap would hit a badminton shuttlecock back and forth for fun and their record was more than 500 returns without stopping. Kade liked to work out with weights with Pap.
“He was a very happy person,” Tammi said.
“Pap would always call me his angel,” Kayla said. “Now that he’s gone, he’s my angel, my guardian angel.”
Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about David R. Brechbill, who died April 2 at the age of 54. His obituary was published in the April 4 edition of The Herald-Mail.