Andy Budd is Citizen of the Year
CAR MAN: Andy Budd, owner of Country Chevrolet in Warrenton, is this year's Fauquier Times-Democrat Citizen of the Year. Photo by Adam Goings
In every community, there are people who try to help others along life's roads.
Fauquier County is fortunate to have many residents who make generosity a habit, and one, Andy Budd, is this year's Fauquier Times-Democrat Citizen of the Year.
Budd, the owner of Country Chevrolet in Warrenton, is noted for his good works, and his unselfishness has touched many people and organizations.
After 9/11, Budd loaded up box trucks with goods bought in Fauquier – rakes, shovels, gloves, generators and cases of bottled water – and drove to New York to give them to the emergency responders dealing with the aftermath of that tragedy.
When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, Budd took two commercial trucks filled with generators, chain saws, fuel and other supplies to Biloxi, Miss. He donated all the goods and one of the trucks to a fire department there, an act that was cited by Jay Leno on the Tonight Show.
Those were acts of national charity. Budd's generosity is well-known among local organizations.
In August 2010, Budd was listening to Nancy Walbridge-O'Connell, the community relations director for Hospice of the Rapidan, give a speech at the Fauquier Rotary Club about the facility that the Hospice is planning near Sumerduck. When she was through, Budd approached her and said that he'd like to help.
"He said that because of his schedule, he thought it best if he would make a donation, and he said he'd like to give $50,000," Walbridge-O'Connell recalled.
"I almost fainted. But then he told me why. He said that both of his parents had had hospice care, and he had tears in his eyes when he told me. It was that emotional connection that made him want to help us. He had seen what hospice meant to family members," she said.
When Christmas comes around, Budd sends Country Chevrolet employees out with $500 and instructions to buy toys for Toys for Tots. "He drives up with two vans filed with toys every year, from bingo games to bicycles," said Buddy Curtis, a long-time Toys for Tots volunteer.
When the Piedmont Symphony Orchestra was looking for sponsors, they sent Tom Tucker to knock on Budd's door. He did not come away empty-handed.
"He has sponsored a concert every year for the last eight years," Tucker said.
Budd and Tucker share a mutual interest in music, and Tucker – who is a financial adviser for Edward Jones in Warrenton – said that he has gotten to know Budd better because of it. "The other things he quietly does are the real story," Tucker said.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of Fauquier County have benefited from Budd's giving, as have local sports teams, the Casanova Hunt and numerous others.
"He donated the bus to transport the kids to the Boys and Girls Club," said John Gregory, the executive director of the local club. "And he gave $25,000 for the front lobby. He always sponsors events, and he's there for us all year-round. He's donated a lot of equipment to this facility."
One activity that Budd also has supported consistently is the after-prom parties that are put on by the county high schools.
Each year for almost a decade, Budd has given away a car at each party.
"Last year was our first prom," said Linda Lee, one of the assistant principals at Kettle Run High School, "and with the economy being what it is, we were reluctant to even go ask him. But we finally did, and he said, 'Absolutely.' He didn't hesitate for a second. It's a very generous offer to provide three cars every year."
Budd has an explanation for the gifts.
"After-prom parties were started because of the rash of accidents involving teenagers, and drinking and driving at parties after their proms," he said. "Parents groups were putting on after-prom parties to keep the kids safe, and they needed something to keep the kids at the party.
"Once they're in the party, they can leave, but they can't come back in, and the prize needed to be big enough to make them want to stay, so I started giving away cars.
"I look at it as money I would have spent on my own children if I had children, so I don't worry about it. I do it because it's a good cause and because when I was in high school, the sister of one of my best friends was killed in a drunk-driving accident after her prom."
Andy Budd is an enthusiast with a long history of loving cars.
"My dream car is a 2003 Bentley Azure convertible," he said. "I'd love to have one, and some day when I retire, I’ll get one. But it's not a wise use of capital these days."
One car that he did go out and get is a 1959 Mercury Monterey convertible with 28,000 miles on the odometer. The 51-year-old car had once been his grandmother's.
"It was the last car she ever bought," Budd said. "It was right on the showroom floor, and she absolutely loved this car. She named it 'Petunia.'"
Budd's grandmother kept the car until she had a stroke and moved from New York to Norfolk en route to an assisted-living facility.
"She gave the car to me, and my father said, 'Absolutely not. That car is too nice, and we're going to sell it. Your grandmother needs the money to pay for her living expenses.' And I promised my grandmother that one day I'd get the car back."
"Of course, I didn't have the wherewithal to buy it from her, so my dad sold it for $1,750 to a car collector in Chesapeake, Virginia."
When Budd became gainfully employed, he began a quest to find and buy the car. Success took more than 30 years.
He spoke with the collector who had bought the car initially, but that went nowhere. A few years ago, that man died, and the trail went cold. Budd searched for the car every week on the Internet, and finally, he got lucky.
"In August 2009, it pops up on the Web, and there's this picture of it," he recalled.
The hunt intensified. Two or three weeks went by, and Budd got a phone call.
"The guy says, 'You don't know me, but I own your grandmother's Mercury.' We started chatting, and he was asking me about my grandmother, and I told him I’d like to buy the car back, and he said, 'Well it's really not for sale, I really like the car.'
"I said, 'Well, I was thinking about offering you something stupid and see if it would tempt you.'"
The man wavered, but decided to keep the car. It was owned by collectors who had millions of dollars invested in cars. The partners said that there's not another car like this anywhere.
"This is the only one left in the world that's still in its original condition," they said.
"I got it back here in late September 2009," he said, triumphantly.
Budd drives the car around town and to car shows every now and then. He said that it's the most documented car in America.
"Grandma was a very organized person," Budd said. "She wrote down the date, how many gallons, how much it cost, and how many miles were on the car, for every tank of gas from July 12, 1959, to May 26, 1976. She recorded – and kept the receipts – every time she had the oil changed or bought a new battery or had some work done on the car. Documentation is very important to car collectors."
Budd bought Country Chevrolet in 1997. He said that business has been good for years, even through the recent recession and bankruptcy of General Motors.
"We never had any doubts about us because I've always been a great performer for General Motors, and we never had any doubts about the Chevrolet brand. I knew that would survive," Budd said.
"The question was, how long would take for GM to get through it, and whether or not I had the wherewithal to last that long? It was like, 'OK, if I really slim down, how many months can I go without making money? What's the most I can lose on a monthly basis and still survive, if this takes a year or two?' Fortunately, we didn't have to worry about that. Business is booming, absolutely booming."
In the bookcase behind his desk stands a bust of Sir Winston Churchill that Budd got from his father.
"Churchill was my father's hero, because he was so strong in the face of adversity," Budd explained. "He's been quite an influence in my life, too.
"When times were tough – like when GM was going to go through bankruptcy, and we didn't know whether the government was going to keep them alive or not – I'd come into work and I'd see that bust, and I'd say, 'You know what, I don't have any problems compared to what that man went through.'
"My whole life is invested in this company, but he was looking at the loss of his entire country, and 50 million people were looking to him to save them. Knowing his story helped some of the stress of General Motors to go away."
Budd has played guitar for many years. In a contest sponsored by General Motors, he won an Eric Clapton guitar signed by the legendary guitarist. It resurrected his musical career.
"It was the most beautiful, gorgeous, wonderful-sounding thing I’d ever seen in my life, so I started learning to play all over again," Budd said. "I was fiddling around with it in the basement one day, and I wrote a song about my dad and played it for a few people, and they said, 'Wow, that's a really good song.'
"The next thing you knew, I wrote another song, and then another one. I was playing somewhere – it might have been the Rotary Club – and I had written 10 songs, and somebody said, 'You ought to make an album.'"
His connection to the Piedmont Symphony paid off.
Through Tom Tucker, he found a producer, and eventually went to Branson, Mo., and recorded two CDs. He soon will record a third. Characteristically, proceeds from their sale go to Fauquier County Habitat for Humanity.
"I don't go anywhere without a guitar, because it gives you a chance to shoot the breeze with someone," he said. "Before you know it, you've got a little jam session going on," he said.
One of his guitars was acquired as a result of helping out after Hurricane Katrina. Budd was in Mississippi, and he met a man with a connection to a famous guitar.
"It's 105 degrees outside, and people's houses are blown down in the midst of all this chaos of Katrina, and there we were, sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck, picking a guitar, shooting the breeze. This guy told me about this guitar that had been commissioned by Chevrolet in the 1980s.
"There are only two in the world, and one of them is in the Country Music Hall of Fame. He had owned the other one, but after Katrina, he sold it to someone," Budd said. "Two or three weeks later, I got a call from the guy who had bought it. He had escaped from his house with only his guitars. I told him I would pay him what he paid for it, and throw in something else.
"The day before, someone had traded in this old motor home on a van chassis, with a little sink and a bed. It was 15 years old, and the inside was pretty nice. It ran well. I told the guy, 'If you'll bring me the guitar, I will give you this motor home, and you can live in it until you get back on your feet again, but you have to promise me that you'll pass it on to someone else then.' You know, I’ve gotten letters from six people who have lived in that van."
Budd is modest when questioned about his contributions.
"Well, I'm very blessed. All things work together for good, and the community has been exceptional to us at Country Chevrolet. It's that 'what goes around, comes around.'"
People who have benefited from his charity will verify instantly why he is our selection for 2010 Citizen of the Year.
"When you see a man open his heart like that, it's awesome," said Buddy Curtis, recipient of the same honor in 2006.
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