News From The Woods.38


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published April 12, 2000

"The Loss Of A Friend"

On April 4, 2000, I lost one of the best friends I ever had. We grew up together. His family and mine were among the first "settlers" to post-WWII Arkansas. My parents began operation of Blackberry Hill Resort in 1947. At roughly the same time, Fred and Charlene Blackburn started the Blackburn Resort. Of their three children, their youngest, Charlie, and I have always been the closest. During high school I attended military school in Florida but still had the summers on the lake here in the Ozarks. In the 70's Freddie Blackburn took the reigns of their family business, which was by then a successful real estate venture. In the 80's Freddie in turn began to groom Charlie into the CEO position of what was by then the largest and most successful real estate company in the region. Charlie was a natural. With his quiet demeanor and savvy business sense he took the business into the 90's. His "personal touch" won many friends and paid off in new buyers and sellers. He became a lifetime member of the Million-Dollar Club. He was also my very first video client. All I had at the time was a ¾" VCR and a clumsy single-tube color camera. But Charlie had faith in me and together we produced an "Armchair tour" of the area. In addition to the usual businesses and area attractions, we also included segments of historic relevance and scenic splendor. The video was a huge hit and accounted for many people moving into this area.

During all this time I spent countless hours with Charlie in his Jeep, travelling far and wide across three counties doing his real estate chores. We also spent a great many hours on the lake, either in his ski boat or on my pontoon boat. He and I also spent many float trips down the White River, telling stories and pulling in the trout. He was also very active in karate and I shot many hours of instructional video as Charlie showed the ropes to the younger members of his class. He always contributed - either in money or in work - in any community activity. You could always count on Charlie in a pinch.

I don't think Charlie Blackburn ever had an enemy in his whole life. He was respected across three generations. His hair was a little long in the 70's and 80's but it sure didn't stop him from making a real estate sale. His attitude and manners were impeccable and therefore he earned the respect of his elders. I'm not saying he and I didn't resort to some horseplay now and again, we were just VERY CAREFUL! Once, as he was pulling his boat back home from a holiday weekend on the lake, he forgot to fasten the tie-downs securely, and as he looked back in his rear-view mirror he witnessed the boat lift up off the trailer and smack down on the highway behind him. Thankfully there was no traffic behind him!

I never heard Charlie say a bad or unkind word about anyone in all the years I knew him. Sometimes people would mistake his quietness as "being slow". Wrong! Charlie was not slow - he was a thinker and would sometimes take a moment before he opened his mouth, lest something come out that he would have later regretted, like so many others do day in and day out. He always dressed clean & neat, and was respectful to everyone and all things around him. He was an advocate of environmental conservation, historic rememberances, and community involvement. Preservation of family and community is what Charlie most cherished in life.

The loss that I feel is about as great as any I have endured, save for the losses in my own family. I couldn't sleep that very first night after he died. As I got up from my bed, my wife Jane asked where I was going and I replied "I just have to write Charlie a letter". I went downstairs and it sort of wrote itself. It isn't eloquent or involved but it expresses how I feel about my pal. When I was asked by the family to speak as a "childhood friend" at the funeral I could think of no other words to express myself other than my letter, so I read it to the congregation. It was the longest ten feet I ever had to walk…. From my chair to the podium:

Dear Charlie-
I thought about you just the other day. I intended to call you and now it's too late. And now today I can't seem to think about anything but you. It's not just the community's loss, it's my loss. I've lost a dear friend. A life-long friend. We grew up together, you and I. I keep thinking about all the times we spent on the lake, water skiing together. Or all the hikes and adventures we went on with "the usual crew". And how many times did we run out of gas in your jeep out in the boonies on some real estate job? You were the first businessman in town who believed in me. You were my first video client. You officiated over my second marriage ceremony. Whenever I needed a friend to talk to, you were always there. No matter how busy you were in your hectic schedule you always found time to see me when I stopped by. We brought in the Millennium together here at my house. I am really going to miss your quiet demeanor, your shy smile, your understated laugh, your great sense of humor, and your witty one-liners. No one will miss you more than Kathy and your family, but I now feel like I have also just lost part of my "family". It hurts, and I'm sad and mad at the same time. I will miss you, my friend, but you will never be far away......

Charles T. Blackburn
August 21, 1951 - April 4, 2000

These are emails that I received from a few of Charlie's friends:

thanks so much for writing- I am shocked to say the least. Yes, life is too short. I, too, have thought about Charlie most of the day. Loss, especially sudden, is never easy to deal with, much less rationalize. Mountain Home has lost a part of the family that I remember from my youth, at a time when that community was what it should always have remained-at ease....from what I have read and heard, Charlie attempted to preserve that "hometown" aura and that aspect of his presence will be severly missed by those who remember "the good ole days." We will always cherish his smile, his wit, and his presence at mexican food night at "The Farm." Ah yes, life was much more simple then and we were the better for knowing him....
Bob, Take care my friend and cherish your fact, may we all.
Keith Fudge

Just got back to my office and got your e-mail. What a shock! What a shame. Such a nice, nice person. If you have a minute, could you send me their home address-I want to send a card. My heart goes out to Kathy, his family, you, and the whole Mountain Home community. He will be missed. Thanks for letting me know.
Steve Smith

Dear Bob,
Dr. Burnett told us yesterday about Charlie. Just so hard to believe and understand. He was just a part of Mt Home that will be truly missed. I know Charlie will be glad that you were selected to speak about his life, be that it was short, was filled with so many memories and contributions that he gave back to his friends and the community. I will miss Charlie's soft spoken words and his kind touches. We all were blessed to have known Charlie.
Ellen Ahrens

I was thinking of you this morning. I knew you were friends with Charlie, I didn't realize you were almost family. I had only been around him a few times, but liked him instantly. My heart goes out to his family and to you his close friend I know he will be missed but always loved.
Vikkie Vanderstek

I am truly sorry to hear about Charlie. I know how much he meant to you. I know you guys were very close and I am deeply sorry. You know you can call me anytime if you need to talk. Tell Jane I'm sorry too. You guys know where we are if you need us.
Missy & Jody

Bob, I did not know Charlie personally but If he was your friend he would have been mine too. I am sorry for your loss , good friends are very special and you can never have too many, so the loss of one is hard to take. The memories of a friend are all that we have left when they are gone, but I think that is one of the reasons we have a memory, to keep us in touch with the people we care about when we can no longer talk to them face to face. This does not help us with our grief at the time of loss but I think it may help later as time goes by. I dont know if my thoughts are helpful to you but I hope that they are in some way.
Your Friend,
David Capps

I'm so sorry to hear this Bob. I have been out of the office for a few days now and just got the E-mail. :o( Please express my regards to all concerned. Now that I just turned 40, life has such a greater value in everything we say and do. His warmth and humor will be greatly missed.
Bruce Ward

I think the letter will be perfect for you to read. If you can't get through it, everyone there will understand. It really should make all of us stop & think about how short our time on earth can be & we need to get together as much as we can.
Mel & Ryan Maas

Charlie Blackburn
By Marilyn Gash

Charlie was the first person we met in Arkansas.
He was our first friend we made in Mountain Home.
Charlie introduced us to many of our dearest friends.
He even helped Dave get his first job in Mountain Home.
In reflecting back, Charlie played a big part in us deciding to make the move to Arkansas-one of the best decisions we have ever made.

This summer when we visited Mountain Home, I realized just how much I missed Mountain Home and people like Charlie who are like family to me. When I think back to my most cherished memories, I remember well all the good times we had on the lake and our friendship.
Respected businessman, realtor, historian and citizen, Charlie worked to preserve Mountain Home's historic buildings and heritage. I will always remember Charlie's soft voice, smile, and the great love Charlie and Kathy had for each other; a rarity these days.

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