By Ryan Crowe,

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – He was an image bigger than life, much like the state that gave him his name.  He was big, he was loud, he was flamboyant and his beauty was questioned by many.

Big Tex died Friday, or at least that’s what it feels like.

The face of the State Fair of Texas for as long as most of us can remember, Big Tex was one of the few things you could count on being at the fair each fall, much like a Fletcher’s Corny Dog or the pig races.

Mike Judge’s cartoon hero Hank Hill described him as the “Grand Canyon and the Statue of Liberty rolled into one.”

I say he was more.  At least for North Texans.

I grew up getting a day off school each year to go to the State Fair.  I have memories of going along with classmates to stand around Big Tex Circle to listen to his booming voice welcome the crowds.

When I was in high school, our marching band would go march in one of the nightly parades the fair held.  The parade route had us circle around the 52-foot giant, and I’d always stop playing and take a look at him in the twilight sky as the last glint of sun bounced off the gold paint of the Tower Building behind him.

I took my wife to the State Fair the day I proposed to her.  Being a native of Colorado but having gone to college in Texas she’d heard stories of how great it was (mostly from me) and had heard my ‘Howdy Folks!’ imitation, but had never experienced him for herself.  I actually debated proposing to her at the fair, but decided against it.  Had I got down on one knee in front of Big Tex, I might have flubbed asking her more than I did, or might have proposed to him.

Since returning to Texas in 2007, I’ve dragged friends and family from Colorado, Ohio, California and countless unbaptized Texans with me to the fair, each time getting pictures of them in front of Big Tex.  Some day my son will see a picture of himself at 4-months-old staring blankly as only newborns can as I hold him up in front of the statue, much like other parents do to religious icons.

I know they will rebuild Big Tex for next year, and I know Bill Bragg’s gravely voice will be heard by thousands, but it still won’t quite be the same.  When I learned the news of the fire Friday morning my shock quickly gave way to sadness as I watched him burn.  My sister told me she almost wanted to cry.

I think we all did.

So long, old friend.  We’ll meet again under the shade of a corn dog stand.

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