By Bill Williams
I walked out of our driveway, on across the street and into Fred’s yard.
The gravel crunched as I approached his basement. He had said that he would be down there, for me to come on in.
Both of the garage doors were open and I saw him standing there, looking into his basement closet. He just stood there, lost in time, perhaps, and certainly lost somewhere back there amid a lifetime of memories that were by turn a lot of joy or more bitter than sweet.
Fred and Sarah Lou moved into their house at Lake Lure about the time we moved into ours. That would have been 1984. They were a little older than we – by about four or five years.
They had kept their house at Marco Island, Fla., and that apartment in upstate New York. After spending the winter in Marco, they would drive to Lake Lure in the spring, head for New York for a short visit in early summer and then drive back to Lake Lure for most of the summer and fall.
They were easy to follow, easy to get to know.
Fred and I, both handymen gardeners, found it expedient at times to pause for breath while catching up on the state of things. I found out early on that our new neighbor was one who had looked into the world, who knew and understood business and who could give you good intelligence and good advice.
He knew about World War II. He had risen to the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy. He had held responsible positions. He had experienced first-hand the deadly tug of war.
Then, after the war, he rose fast in the business world and became vice president of one of the nation’s largest drug companies.
He had a sharp mind. He was one of a handful of representatives of huge business firms who pooled their knowledge and came up with the bar code that you see being used at cash registers all over the world.
He never showed me his handsome plaque but this is what it says:
“To FREDRICH G. BUTLER: In recognition of his distinguished service as a member of the Adhoc Committee on a uniform grocery product code. “
I meet a lot of people. Some of them come on strong in the beginning and then shimmy off into the darkness. It is difficult for a pretender to hold on over the long haul. Not Fred Butler. He was no pretender.
A few years ago, I had a call from Fred in Marco. He said that Sarah Lou had had a slight stroke and that he, himself, had been diagnosed as having early Parkinson’s. They were going to put their house on the market.
Fred was a John Wayne type of guy. He sowed his own seeds of fate and he harvested them with wonderful advantage.
“We are ready for whatever comes,” he said on the phone. “ There comes a time when one must move on,” he said.
Both died not long after that.