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Goodbye, Fred

We were sitting around the newsroom Thursday, thinking about the good life of our friend Fred Cromwell when managing editor Jackie Carpenter recalled that a couple of years ago Fred had a very scary time with cancer around his parotid gland. He was treated powerfully with radiation, and his neck got red and swollen. But, Jackie recalled, Fred never complained about the discomfort and rarely missed any work.
Jackie noticed when Fred quit smoking, too. She said with real appreciation: “He never judged those of us who have been unable to quit. Very few people do that. Most people who quit smoking carry a banner around that says, ‘I quit smoking,’ but Fred never did.
“What hurts me now is that I never told him that about the smoking or the radiation. If you want to tell them something, you should do it.”
Such good advice. When you admire someone for a virtue or a good deed, why not tell them when they’re alive? For some reason, it sounds so easy, but it’s so hard to do.
We could have told Fred a bunch of things we admired about him, but, of course, we didn’t. If you haven’t heard, Fred Cromwell, the advertising manager at The Corydon Democrat for 41 years, who retired in June of 2001, fell off a ladder he’d put up against his screened-in porch around noon on March 4. He suffered a fatal brain injury and never regained consciousness. He died last Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. He was 66 and enjoying his retirement. People often saw Fred and his wife, Glenda, taking daily three-mile walks around Corydon with their big Golden retriever, Tyler. He and Glenda finally had plenty of time to spend with their children, Blake, Laura and Sally, and the five grandchildren, all girls.
I worked with Fred for 31 years. You get to know someone pretty good when you’re with them during stressful moments over the years. Fred was relentlessly optimistic. He took a Dale Carnegie course early in his career and bought into the program. He never had a bad day, even with the cancer and all the radiation treatments.
Mark Young, Fred’s colleague in the advertising department for 27 years, said Fred never had a bad mood. “He was always upbeat and happy,” Mark said.
Ask Fred how he was, and he would invariably reply, “I’ve never been better.” I think he believed that, too. That answer irritated some people, but others would look at him and ponder it. The power of positive thinking. Maybe there’s something to that, maybe it does work. It did with Fred.
Beverly Herndon, who works in the newsroom during the day and the Wal-Mart Supercenter in the evenings, said Fred would stop and talk to her at the store, and he was “always smiling, always in a good humor.” Looking at all the family pictures last week at the funeral home, I noticed that Fred was smiling in just about each one. Amazing.
Fred liked to jingle the change in his pants pocket as he talked, a habit, I believe, he picked up from his first boss here, the late Robert P. O’Bannon. I think he learned a lot about how to deal with people from Bob O’Bannon, the master.
Fred used to amuse us at the newspaper because at deadline time, he would walk around furiously, almost on the run, precious ad copy in hand. Publisher Denny Huber had windows installed in the doors so his colleagues could see the human whirlwind coming, otherwise you might get your wrists busted if you were about to push open the door on the other side.
Fred was one of Robert P. O’Bannon’s first hires, and he did a lot of different jobs here, covering meetings, delivering newspapers, finally managing the advertising department. I’ll never forget the afternoon we spent together covering the horrible April 3 tornadoes in 1974. Fred and I drove all over northern Harrison County that day and saw things we’d never forget. He took notes; I took pictures.
Several years later, Fred and Denny walked to work because a blizzard had brought everything in Corydon to a standstill. Nothing new for Fred. He walked to work every day. Went home for lunch, too. The only other person at work that day was Jan Crosby, who worked alongside Fred for 27 years.
Jan said she admired Fred’s “love of life. He always found the good things in life, he found the good in people. He always did what he thought was right. He was just a fair person. He was just great to work with.”
Ruby Rooksby also knew Fred well. When she started working here, she was a novice and slightly awed by the newspaper business. Fred helped her and encouraged her.
“This working relationship continued for the next 38 years,” she said. “Fred was kind, courteous, personable, understanding, dependable, a good listener, and, above all, always a good friend … My children and I have always considered Fred a part of our extended family. He celebrated with us in times of joy and held our hands in times of sorrow. What a friend.”
Fred was always there. What an invaluable gift.