Sunday, February 2, 2014

My friend Fred

I discovered this years ago: as you wend your journey through life you occasionally come across irresistible people.

These are the folks who leave a lasting impression. When you meet up with one of them, you hope to see them again sometime. Usually, they leave you smiling.

In my 30-year career as a sports writer, I've probably met 10,000 people. Probably more. Some of them were irresistible.

Fred Lohr was like that.

Fred Lohr
I met Fred almost as soon as I first arrived in Lexington in 1976. He was coaching the Post 8 American Legion baseball team back then and quickly I found it was impossible to have that strictly professional, arm's length relationship with him.

Usually, a journalist needs to keep work-related relationships somewhat impersonal, so you can ask the tough questions without compromise or hard feelings. When you work on a small-town newspaper, that's not always possible.

It was not possible with Fred. I knew him as one of the most even-keeled people I ever met. Usually soft-spoken, he'd greet you with his disarming smile and a friendly word. His face seemed to light up when he saw you, and that made you feel pretty darn good. He made you feel like you were his friend. Irresistible.

I never saw him angry, although I suppose it was possible he could get upset now and then. I never saw him lose his cool, even if he had to argue a call with an umpire. I also know Fred was an avid golfer, and while I never had a chance to play a round with him, I can't imagine him ever throwing a tantrum. Not possible. Not with his DNA.

I suppose his smile could have been cultivated over the years as a result of his proprietorship of Southern Lunch, Lexington's iconic restaurant hard by the rail depot and the now ghostly furniture plants. Fred probably met 100,000 people in his life — perhaps even more — and no doubt had a smile for every one of them. You need people skills when you deal with the public, and you can't help but think those skills came naturally to Fred. Heck, they probably weren't even skills — it's just who he was.

I saw Fred for the last time just a few months ago, and appropriately enough, it was at Southern Lunch. Age had tightened its grip on him — as it does for us all — but he still made his way to our table and flashed his smile and asked us how we were doing. It was as if he was still running the place.

Fred died on Thursday at the age of 80 and no doubt left his irresistible mark on the community — the people — he loved.

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