A year later, PGA golf pro’s widow keeps his legacy alive

Ashley Siller, widow of  Gene Siller, with sons Banks (left) and Beau at the Gene Siller Memorial Pro-Am fundraiser last August. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Ashley Siller, widow of Gene Siller, with sons Banks (left) and Beau at the Gene Siller Memorial Pro-Am fundraiser last August. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Gene Siller Memorial Grant supports junior golfers in Georgia.

Their final drive together replays in Ashley Siller’s mind: her husband, Gene Siller, behind the wheel of their black Silverado, their two little boys in the backseat, the moment when she said, “Our life is so good,” feeling overcome with love, gratitude and a touch of fear.

“Our boys were amazing, our jobs were great, we’d just had so much fun on vacation, we really had it all,” said Ashley, 35. “The only thing that could take our happiness away, we thought, was if one of us were to get really sick; we didn’t imagine worse.”

Just 24 hours later, Gene, Ashley’s husband of 11 years and the father of her sons, was gone.

The Cumming residents were scheduled to stay at Folly Beach, South Carolina, for their family vacation one day more, but Gene, a head PGA golf professional, wanted to get home a day early to help his team at Pinetree Country Club in Kennesaw with a big tournament.

On Saturday July 3, 2021, around 2 p.m., a white truck was spotted on the green at the 10th hole. Gene hopped on a golf cart to go address the situation. Minutes later, shots were fired, and Gene lay dead with two bullet wounds. The bodies of two other men were discovered in the bed of the truck, bound, gagged and shot. The alleged shooter, Bryan Anthony Rhoden, fled on foot and was captured days later.

Rhoden, along with Justin Caleb Pruitt and Taylor Nicole Cameron, were all indicted in the triple murder. Rhoden is facing 17 charges, including three counts of malice murder. His trial is expected to begin in August or September.

Pruitt was indicted on two counts of felony murder and two counts of kidnapping with bodily injury and Cameron on one count of criminal attempt to commit tampering with evidence, the indictment states.

Combined ShapeCaption
Gene and Ashley Siller with their sons Beau and Banks on vacation at Folly Beach, South Carolina, two days before Gene was killed at Pinetree Country Club. Courtesy of Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Gene and Ashley Siller with their sons Beau and Banks on vacation at Folly Beach, South Carolina, two days before Gene was killed at Pinetree Country Club. Courtesy of Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Combined ShapeCaption
Gene and Ashley Siller with their sons Beau and Banks on vacation at Folly Beach, South Carolina, two days before Gene was killed at Pinetree Country Club. Courtesy of Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Keeping Gene’s legacy alive

As Ashley awaits the trial and navigates life without her husband, she is focused on two goals: to raise her boys with Gene at the heart of all they do and to ensure Gene’s legacy lives on.

“Everyone who Gene touched lost a friend, a mentor, a family member,” said Ashley, who works for AT&T as a sales leader. “He was like an undercover celebrity, just an incredible human being. The way he lived his life was so admirable, and though he’s no longer here physically to influence everyone, I want to be sure his presence is felt and his life continues to make a difference.”

With the help of Scott Geary, executive director of the PGA Georgia Section, Ashley created The Gene Siller Memorial Grant managed by the Georgia PGA Foundation to honor Gene and his passion for junior golf. The grant provides financial assistance to competitive junior golfers in Georgia.

“Gene was dedicated to coaching junior golfers at Pinetree and wished he had more time and resources for kids with the passion to play golf,” said Geary. “This grant will live on in Gene’s name and pursue that service attitude and opportunity to help others that Gene embodied. His legacy lies with his children and many other children who will grow the game of golf in his honor.”

The fund kicked off with the inaugural Gene Siller Red Pants Tournament at Pinetree last August. Support flooded in from across the nation, including members of the PGA Tour. Autographed items from Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson were donated for auction. The event yielded more than $200,000, and seven young golfers were awarded scholarships to support their endeavors.

The next Gene Siller Red Pants Memorial Tournament will be held Aug. 15 at Pinetree Country Club.

Combined ShapeCaption
Ashley Siller with sons Beau and Banks at the inaugural Gene Siller Red Pants Tournament at Pinetree Country Club last August. Courtesy of Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Ashley Siller with sons Beau and Banks at the inaugural Gene Siller Red Pants Tournament at Pinetree Country Club last August. Courtesy of Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Combined ShapeCaption
Ashley Siller with sons Beau and Banks at the inaugural Gene Siller Red Pants Tournament at Pinetree Country Club last August. Courtesy of Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Credit: Ashley Siller

Sharing his love of the game

Although Gene spent his work week at the golf course, he often returned to take his sons, Beau, 8, and Banks, 6, to play 18 holes.

“When he took them to golf, he always had a little prize bag with goodies for whichever boy won the hole,” said Ashley. “He also had a giant trophy that he gave them for whoever won the most holes, so the trophy was always changing rooms. Gene made golf fun for them.”

Days after Gene died, Ashley and friends visited the 10th-hole green at Pinetree. While there, a persistent dragonfly caught their attention, sparking meaning and a symbol of Gene’s presence.

“We spot dragonflies everywhere we go now, and all simultaneously yell ‘Daddy!’,” said Ashley. “When we spot them on the golf course, the boys will say, ‘Daddy is here! Daddy saw that putt!’ They’ve become a comfort for all of us.”

The past year has been riddled with painful firsts – the first birthdays without Gene, the holidays, their anniversary, Father’s Day. But it’s his day-to-day absence that hurts the most.

“Our wedding bands were engraved with “Team Siller,” because that was us, a team,” said Ashley. “Parenting and life, it’s not meant to do individually. Gene and I were 50-50 down the line. There were so many things that he took care of that I never thought about before, like emissions and taxes. In the winter he’d chop wood and build these amazing fires. We’d go to the Christmas tree lot, and he’d pick the biggest one. This year there were no fires, and the tree wasn’t grand. We traded our ‘go big or go home’ mentality for survival mode.”

‘It will be OK’

Ashley has been intentional about keeping golf consistent in the boys’ lives. They play at least every other week, friends and family always eager to take them for a round. Gene’s best friend, fellow golf pro Ryan Joyce, helped Beau and Banks get fitted for new golf clubs and surprised them with golf bags that display the logo for their dad’s memorial grant.

“The boys are so resilient,” said Ashley. “They’re kids and they’re only able to see what’s right in front of them. They are going to be OK because of the support system we have. The same goes for me. That doesn’t mean we’re not heartbroken. Not a day has passed that I haven’t shed a tear. We will never be the same, but Gene always said, ‘It will be OK,’ and I’m willing myself to believe it.”

Ashley fell in love with Gene when she was a 20-year-old college student and he was a 33-year-old mechanical engineer (with five patents) turned golf pro. Ashley made Gene more fun; he helped her become more grounded.

“I feel like I grew up with him,” said Ashley. “He was so humble, kind, loving, centered. He was kind of like a parent, so smart, instilling life skills in me, showing me how to make decisions, how to trust my instincts, how to protect myself and our family. We joked about having the Siller Fortress and he was Gatekeeper Genie. I miss him and that feeling of being protected. But I know I’ve handled this situation better because Gene unknowingly prepared me to do so. I constantly ask, ‘What would Genie do?’ and I probably always will. Gene is still my compass.”


Gene Siller Memorial Grant

Donations can be made by visiting go.rallyup.com/georgiapgafoundation. Follow on Facebook at www.facebook.com/genesillergrant