by nathan oster
Greybull’s most recognizable resident says he is proud of what has been accomplished in the past five years by the Hands Across the Saddle organization, which he helped to establish shortly after arriving in town.
Wilford Brimley has appeared in movies and on TV and as a pitchman for both Quaker Oats and Liberty Medical. But if you ask him, he might just tell you he’s every bit as proud of the charities he helped launch — organizations like Hands Across the Saddle, which will hold its fifth annual banquet on Saturday, Aug. 17 at the Herb Asp Community Center.
“I’m of the opinion that this little town has raised close to a half a million dollars and benefitted over 200 families just in the last five years,” he said. “I am very proud of this community and the people who have participated in this event thus far.”
Brimley is adamant about one point: HATS isn’t about him or his wife Beverly.
“My wife and I both have a belief that we are charged with a responsibility to leave things a little better than we find them, which was the original and sole purpose of starting this charity,” he said. “We became aware there were people in this community who need a little help now and again — and they should be entitled to get it without sacrificing their dignity or going through a lot of nonsense.
“This charity has done some wonderful things,” he continued. “A man was on his death bed and he needed his tooth out. He was in pain. (HATS) paid for it.
“Just the other day, I answered the phone and a lady was asking if the charity would be able to help her with her medical expenses. I said, ‘Well I certainly hope it can … because that’s what they’re there for.’ Now obviously, there’s a limit to what (HATS) can do. It cannot solve anyone’s medical crisis. But it can make the pain a little easier by providing a motel room, gas money, or something along those lines, when people get in a pinch.”
Brimley said another thing folks need to know about HATS is that the organization never has a difficult time getting well-known acts to participate. This year, Baxter Black will be making his second appearance at a HATS event. Last year, Riders in the Sky entertained.
“Each and every year, someone has come here to entertain on a volunteer basis, with no pay other than the applause and love of the audience,” he said. “The first time we did this, out in Shell, my friend Red Steagal made a comment that I’ve never forgotten. In the middle of the performance, he was moved to say, ‘To those who think our nation is going to hell in a handbasket, you should be in Shell, Wyoming tonight.’ I couldn’t agree more. Each of those subsequent event nights, and in the bronc riding I did put on for three or four years, the support of the community has been magnificent. Heck, Baxter Black asked if he could come back.
“If you stop and think, how many charities do you know that are totally self supporting, in that nobody gets paid anything? Every dome that is donated finds its way to people who truly need the money.”
For that, Brimley said he’s eternally grateful.
“There are people in this town who pitched in, put their shoulder up against the wheel and pushed this deal through the mud and mire and made it fly. Everybody knows who they are. They know who they are.”
Without any prompting, Brimley said he wanted to comment on the recent arrests of Myles Foley and Lori Davis, owners of the Historic Hotel Greybull. Brimley said he has been following the developments closely and is disturbed by some of the things he’s seen.
Brimley said Foley and Davis have demonstrated the same desire to “leave things better than they’ve found them,” pointing to the improvements they’ve made to the hotel, including the launch of Mylo’s Coffee Shop and The Speakeasy.
“He and his partner are trying to leave things better than they found them,” he said. “Now I don’t know the facts of his situation. I’m not a lawyer. But I’d like to hope that if the police had it to do over again, they would rethink some of their practices.”
He said his comments could also be extended to the county attorney who requested the arrest warrants and the judge who signed off on them. “Before you go into a place like that at lunchtime and put those people in handcuffs, I’d hope they would all rethink that before they did it again.”
Brimley said he’d “leave it for the courts to decide” the guilt or innocence of Foley and Davis.
“I would just hope that there’s the same treatment for everybody in this city and for everybody who comes to this city, does something, or commits a misdemeanor or is misunderstood,” Brimley said. “If they need to be handcuffed, let’s do that. But if something can instead by decided with a citation or a conversation, it should be.”
Brimley’s final thought on the matter referenced people “being scared to death of repercussions” if they stepped forward to support Davis and Foley. “I don’t know who they are and I don’t care, but I would hope that we don’t live in a society where we have to be afraid of those we have hired to protect and serve us. If those people are afraid of repercussions for stating their opinion, something’s wrong with that picture.”
Brimley said he has grown to love the community and “this part of the world,” but that all good things eventually end. He said the time is coming when he and his wife will “sell out and leave here,” but that he doesn’t know when that will happen.
Until then, he’ll continue to be involved in HATS. Whether he’s here or elsewhere, he has no doubt that HATS will go on. “I think it’s to a point now where (HATS) has its own wings, its own feet beneath it, to where it will carry itself.
“I’m very proud of the fact, though, that this one of the footprints that we will leave.”
A similar organization that Brimley helped establish in Oklahoma continues to thrive in his absence.
“This isn’t about us,” he emphasized. “It’s an opportunity for people who’ve been somewhat fortunate to return that good fortune to their community. That’s what it’s all about.”
Otherwise, Brimley said he’s doing well and enjoying life. He doesn’t have any movie or TV projects in the pipeline, either. “I don’t have any interest in that anymore,” he said. “I did it already.
“Besides, I keep myself fairly busy doing one thing or another.”