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Co-op says farewell to 2017 Walker Award winner Fred Brewster

By Glen Liford, Editor 7/31/2018


Fred Brewster and wife Jo were married 51 years and have two sons, Jason and Tyson. They have four grandchildren: Dylan, Jordan Kate, Alyssa, and Carson.
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Respected Co-op Manager Fred Brewster, the recipient of the 2017 James B. Walker Cooperative Spirit Award, died on June 26 at Park West Medical Center in Knoxville after a valiant battle with cancer.

Fred, a Loudon County native, began his Co-op career upon joining the TFC trainee program in 1969. He is best known for his 30 years as the innovative manager of the highly successful Co-op in Athens that began as McMinn Farmers Cooperative, became McMinn Loudon, later named Valley Farmers Co-op, and is today known as AgCentral.

When I went in to interview Fred for the Walker Award story and script, I didn’t know exactly where we would go with the story. I knew him well from his time as manager of McMinn Loudon Co-op. But sometimes that familiarity makes the storytelling more difficult. I didn’t know what the “story” would be.  That usually comes as I begin to talk with the subject (even those I know well) and ask questions. Sometimes you have to pull the story out, a sentence or two at a time.

Fred, on the other hand, knew exactly the story he wanted to be told. He handed me an old newspaper clipping of a story about his father’s death and the surrounding controversy, and said, “This will tell you all you need to know.”

I was expecting to discuss his Co-op accomplishments, his reputation for thinking ahead, and his devotion to the farmer-owners of his Co-op.  And he did discuss those topics. But what was more important to him was the people who had helped him along the way, was where he came from, and the lessons that his early life and his mother, Mary Jo’s perseverance had taught him. He learned firsthand the dogged determination for which he was so well known while watching his mother raise five young boys after the untimely death of his father, Ray, in a car accident when Fred was only four. It was the greatest lesson he could share.  He also was quick to emphasize the influence of mentors Ralph Alexander, his high school ag teacher; E.R. (Prof) Lidvall, University of Tennessee animal science professor; and, of course, James Walker, the Co-op leader for whom the prestigious Walker Award was named.

It’s undoubtedly true that Fred’s work has shaped and influenced the Co-op system and Tennessee agriculture. He served as a mentor to many in the Co-op system, including AgCentral’s John Walker, CEO; Derald Wright, Loudon store manager; Rick Barham, outside sales; and Jefferson Farmers Manager Mark Pettit among many others. But his most important roles — demonstrated through the pride evident in his words on that sunny fall afternoon — were that of a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, and friend.

It was one of the easiest stories I have ever written. And I hope it captured a fraction of the type of man that Fred Brewster was.

He was successful at his vocation, but he never lost sight of what was important.

It wasn’t long after the Co-op annual meeting that Fred was diagnosed with lung cancer. And unfortunately, his parting came way too soon for those who knew and loved him.

Johnny Brady, a Tennessee Farmers Cooperative director who also served many years on AgCentral’s board and worked closely with Fred, praised the former Co-op manager for his visionary thinking.

“Often he would ask you a question about something,” recalls Johnny, “And what you really needed to be thinking as you were answering that question was the next two or three that he was setting you up for.”

John Walker also mentioned Fred’s foresight and progressive management. “Fred was a unique individual who could evaluate any situation with a laser-sharp focus, create a road map on how to achieve a desired result, while challenging co-workers to put forth the needed effort and ultimately share in the success,” says John. “I watched this play out numerous times over the 19 years that I worked with him.”

Fred was preceded in death by his parents, brother Eddie Brewster and wife Phyllis, brother Roger Brewster, and nephew Eddie Ray Brewster, Jr. (Bubby). He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Brenda Jo Julian Brewster, sons and daughters-in-law, Jason Brewster and wife Julie, Tyson Brewster and wife Shelly; his grandchildren, Dylan, Jordan Kate, Alyssa and Carson Brewster; brothers and sisters-in-law, David and Becky Brewster of Philadelphia and Don and Susan Brewster of Murfreesboro, Toby Brewster of Lenoir City; along with many special nieces, nephews, co-workers, and friends. His visitation and funeral were held on Friday, June 29, at Calvary Baptist Church in Lenoir City.

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