Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood

Buck’s formal name is Frank. He wrote the following eulogy for our great friend, Grace. I read it aloud to her family and friends — more than 200 — assembled at the United Methodist Church of Gulf Breeze for a service in celebration of Grace Futch Grider’s remarkable life.

The organist played a medley of good old hymns, followed by the exquisite Pachelbel’s Canon. Our mutual best friend, Frank Faddis, delivered a personal tribute, as well. Then, on legs that felt to me like a shaky colt’s, I walked to the front of the church and up two steps to the lectern, speaking into the live microphone. . .

My name is Beth Westmark. What I am about to read is a letter written by my husband, Frank, to our dear friend Grace’s family. Frank and I talked about it last night and we agreed that if he could write it, I could read it. My own thoughts and feelings about Grace are mirrored by his words.

“I knew Grace mainly by reputation 20 years before we actually got acquainted. That happened in 1988 when we were both elected to the Board of Directors of American Bank and Trust of Pensacola.

Something clicked between us and we just hit it off from the outset. She helped maneuver me into the chairman’s job before I realized what I was doing.

I asked her, “Are you going to support me in this?” She replied, “You can take it to the bank, honey.” I asked her that question many times during the ensuing years, and always got the same answer.

When we were elected to the board, neither of us knew the bank was losing north of $50,000 a month. We were also surprised to learn that the bank had no insurance to indemnify us from personal legal and financial liability for our actions as directors. Suddenly, this was not an altogether fun job. There were very serious problems, but Grace was no shrinking violet.

I learned early on that when the shooting started, Grace was the one you wanted in your foxhole. She had a lot of steel, and a strong gravely voice that she used very effectively to express her views in a pretty straightforward way.

She got that in the course of her successes in the rough and tumble real estate profession that was dominated at the time by male competitors. She had to be tough to succeed. Being smarter than the guys helped, too.

By 1996 the bank was earning more than a million dollars annually, We subsequently sold it to Whitney National Bank of New Orleans, and our shareholders, who stuck with us during the tough times, recovered their original investment plus a handsome profit.

Absent Grace’s strength, wisdom and sheer will, I doubt it would have happened. I count it as another signature achievement in Grace’s remarkable career.

In the process, Grace and I formed a profound bond of trust, friendship and affection that included my wife, Beth, and her husband, Cecil. We spent a lot of quality time together, the four of us, both here and at our summer homes in North Carolina, where we were neighbors across the mountain.

Our frequent visits began and ended with hugs and kisses, with a lot of great conversation and fun in between. We talked about business, politics, religion, family, personal experiences, whatever – nothing was off-limits. Sometimes Grace’s laughter would fill a big room, sometimes the whole place.

Through it all, Grace remained Grace. She was in the game to the end with both courage and resolve.

“Getting old is not for sissies, honey,” she would say.

I talked to her at length New Year’s Eve, where she was at home recovering from a relatively mild stroke. She still had some paralysis in her right arm.

“I’m going to get over this stroke, honey,” she said. “In the meantime, I’m not out of business. I can lift a glass of scotch with my left hand, so y’all come to see us.”

We had a good belly laugh about that and wished each other Happy New Year.

That was vintage Grace. She looked at life with optimism, always a glass half full, never half empty. She loved her family, talked about them all the time. She loved her friends. She loved her community. She loved the gift of life, and she lived it to the fullest.

She was, truly, amazing Grace.”

An older gentleman came up to me after the service, took my hand in his big paw, and told me he knew reading those words was a tough job. Said he had to do that once for a friend, and didn’t make it. Then, he shook Buck’s hand and thanked him for writing the words. We all thought Grace would be with us — that there was time enough, and to spare. Losing her is a hard hit for her family and friends.

In the future, I’ll tell some “Grace” stories, but they’ll be ones to laugh by, ones that stir the juices of full-out adventure living, and remind us all to do it, do it all, do it now.

Thanks for listening.

 

 

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