I was sitting at the hair salon with foils in my hair when I picked up my phone and saw the text message from my cousin letting me know that my uncle had passed away early that morning. After I caught my breath, I texted my girls to let them know that the great uncle they called “Gangy” had died.
I hadn’t seen him much lately, as he had been in ill health, and, for the past several years had been primarily focused on caring for his wife of 63 years, my “Auntie.”
Auntie, who is now in a nursing home and requires around-the-clock care, spent much of her time tending to Uncle Larry. Their homes in Paragould and at Greers Ferry Lake were impeccably decorated and maintained — and my aunt could throw a party that would make Martha Stewart feel like a failure. He recognized and appreciated all she did for him and adored her.
When Auntie became ill, Uncle Larry drove 30 minutes to Jonesboro from Paragould, Arkansas each day to visit her. When we expressed concern that he was doing too much, all he said was, “She took care of me all these years; it’s my turn to take care of her.”
He and my dad were more like brothers than brothers-in-law. They shared many a story on the deck of their lake house as they cooked the best fish and hushpuppies I’ve ever eaten. After my dad died, I never saw Uncle Larry use the fish cooker again.
When I was young, I tried to get him to let me drive his boat by telling him, “If you’ll let me drive your boat, I’ll let you drive my airplane.” He never forgot that and the last time I saw him, he told that story again and we relished the memory.
He was a generous, loving, and humble man and I miss him terribly. This is his obituary, which taught me a few things even I didn’t know about him.
Larry Brewer was born Feb. 4, 1927, to Maude Williams Brewer and William Elbert Brewer in Cardwell, Mo. He was preceded in death by his parents and brother-in-law, Dr. James F. Gramling.
He is survived by his wife of 63 years Bette Brewer; son and daughter-in-law, Bill and Diane Brewer; grandson, Will (Meredith) Brewer; granddaughters, Shaw Brewer, Neely (Britt) Camp, Ali (Casey) Bean; sister-in-law, Martha Gramling; nephew, Jim (Lacey) Gramling; and nieces, Beth (Jim) Sanders and Sara (Robbie) Van Scoy.
He graduated from Cardwell High School at the age of 17 and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the Officers Training Corps and was enrolled into the Army’s engineering program located at the University of Wyoming in Laramie. As the World War escalated on the Japanese front these young soldiers who were enrolled in the programs were called to active combat duty.
He was deployed as a part of the invasionary forces bound to the island of Japan. He always joked, although tongue and cheek, that President Harry Truman saved his life by his decision to drop the atomic bomb. He was in the early forces to occupy Japan after the surrender. He was discharged as a staff sergeant.
Upon his return home to Cardwell his father had suffered a severe stroke that left him bedridden. He was immediately thrust into the family’s oil business while continuing his education.
He graduated from Arkansas State College in 1951. While enrolled at Arkansas State he was active in the Student Government Association and served as president of his junior class. He was also elected president of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and was a member of the national search committee to build its national headquarters in Memphis.
After graduation he returned full time to the family business, Brewer Brothers, which at that time consisted of three service stations located on various sites of the Arkansas/Missouri state line, and a bulk gasoline and oil business serving area farmers and those that burned kerosene for their heating needs.
He soon began to expand the operation and by the early 1970s, he, along with partners Shell Blakely and Bill Ferrin, built one of the largest independent gasoline marketing operations in Arkansas and southeast Missouri.
During this same period he also developed a large propane business, which was primarily used for home-heating purposes. He realized that this business needed to be less seasonal, so he was a pioneer in the use of propane for what was known as flame cultivation for weed control in cotton. This was before chemicals were widely available for weed control. When farm chemicals began to be used, Brewer Brothers became a distributor for many of them such as Treflan.
He was appointed to the Arkansas State University Board of Trustees. During his time on the board the university constructed its new stadium and replaced the long term president, Carl R. Reng. One of the accomplishments that he was most proud of was the policy that allows southeast Missouri students to pay in-state tuition. He realized how important it was for students to have a university that was within driving distance to their homes.
By the late 70s he decided that he would slow down and sell his portion of the gasoline business to his partners. He rediscovered his love of fishing and he and Bette began to spend at great deal of time at Heber Springs enjoying Greer’s Ferry Lake.
His retirement was short lived when he was asked to become chairman of the board First Paragould Bankshares. During his tenure the bank purchased the Corning Bank and experienced healthy growth.
He was named as a distinguished alumni of Arkansas State University, and was inducted into the Dunklin County Hall of Fame.
Mr. Brewer was a member of the Paragould and Cardwell Rotary Club, served as a director of both the Missouri and Arkansas Oil Marketers Associations. He was a member of both the Cardwell and Honersville Masonic Lodge and also was a member of the First United Methodist Church of Paragould.
Visitation will be noon until 2 p.m. Monday with a memorial service beginning at 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Paragould. The Rev. John Fleming will officiate the service with personal remarks delivered by Kelly Wright.
Pallbearers will be Jeff Block, Donald Guinn, Mike Ford, Brian Clem, Jason Tritch and Matt Rankin.
Honorary pallbearers will be employees and retirees of First National Bank and Brewer Brothers, members of 21 club, the Tuesday coffee group and the morning McDonald’s coffee crew.
The family wishes to express their profound gratitude to the staff of St. Elizabeth’s of Jonesboro and of his personal caregivers, Lessie Shepard and Brenda Reed both of Paragould. They would also like to thank Dr. Asa Crow, Dr. Dwight Williams, Dr. David Phillips, Dr. Matt Haustein, Dr. Brannon Treece and Dr. Adam Woodruff who all went above and beyond caring for him.
The family asks that First United Methodist be considered for memorials.
Online registry: www.phillipsfuneral.org
Rest in peace Uncle Larry. You’ve lived well, loved deeply, given much, and I’m comforted to know you & Daddy are frying fish and telling stories in Heaven.