Bud Abbott: 1921-2019

Cranbrook has lost one of its most iconic and beloved citizens, whose community involvement, altruism, performing skills and warm personality made Cranbrook a better place to live over the past almost 60 years.

Philip ‘Bud’ Abbott passed away at East Kootenay Regional Hospital, just after midnight on January 30, four days after his 98th birthday.

Bud was born January 26, 1921, in England. As a young man, he got into the insurance business, and had been commuting to and working in London for several years when the war broke out.

“I was contemplating volunteering, and my first choice was the Navy,” Bud told the Townsman in 2014. “I thought if I wasn’t accepted into the Navy that I’d try the Royal Air Force. So, in fact, when I went for an interview with the Navy, I managed to end up in what you would call the Naval Air Force. It was an ideal combination of the two — the Fleet Air Arm.”

Pictured above: Bud Abbott in 1941

Abbott completed his training in 1941 and was assigned convoy work and anti-submarine patrols in the North Sea.

But in April, 1944, Bud climbed into a Fairey Barracuda bomber, took off from the deck of the aircraft carrier Furious, and flew into aerial combat for the first time, taking part along with a 40-plane squadron in a now legendary episode: The attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship of the Bismarck and the largest battleship ever built by a European navy, Anchored in a Norwegian fjord, the ship was put out of commission by Bud’s squadron in a wild unforgettable day of combat.

Bud’s war finished with less hazardous operations. He went back into insurance after the war, but after few years, he and his wife Joan decided to come to Canada, with their two small children Louise and Greg.

“I was looking for something quite different,” Bud told Brian Clarkson in an interview last fall. “Not insurance. Maybe cutting down trees or digging holes. Something down to earth.

“But in fact I finished up back in insurance, in Montreal, and they flew me over to Vancouver. And while I was in Vancouver, the company that I was working for was taken over by a bigger company, which later on was taken over by a bigger company. I found myself in a situation I didn’t really like, so I looked around for something else.

“I was looking at agencies, and Maurice Klinkhammer was running Cranbrook Agencies, which was insurance and real estate, and he was looking for someone to come and manage the insurance end. So I had an interview with him, and he took me on, and I moved to Cranbrook with the family.”

Arriving in Cranbrook in 1960, Bud immediately set about making the town his own. Joining the Rotary Club and the Royal Canadian Legion almost from the outset of his arrival, for example.

“He thrived on community involvement,” said longtime friend Garry Anderson. “He was involved in almost everything. Particularly music and theatre. He loved to act, sing and perform.”

Bud took up the theatrical life during his time in the service, and so began a lifelong career as a champion and leading figure for arts, theatre, music and performance that is perhaps his most remarkable legacy for Cranbrook.

He helped launch and nurture Cranbrook Community Theatre Association in the mid-1960s, began putting on plays, presenting in whatever venue the group could find, without a permanent home. Around 1975, Bud and the others he working with were involved in a situation that he is remembered for to this day — the saving of the old Masonic Temple in downtown Cranbrook from its demolition by the City of Cranbrook, and the parking lot that would have been its fate.

The committee persuaded the City of Cranbrook to buy the old Temple, and turn it over to CCT stewardship. The building has operated as a centre of a now thriving local theatrical scene ever since, a cultural and social centre, and is a masterpiece of architecture from Cranbrook’s past.

The Cranbrook Community Theatre Society said in a statement that they would like to express their sympathy to the family of Phillip “Bud” Abbott.

“Over the 45 years that the CCT has been stewarding the historic Studio/Stage Door, Bud was involved in the hearts, minds and lives of the theatre community that was housed there.

“Bud was active in the very creation of the CCT, and his participation as an actor, a director, a producer, a singer and his various roles on the Board of the CCT, will not soon be forgotten.

“Bud will be missed!”

His being part of the community only increased as the years went by, and carried on right to his last days. His involvement with the Canadian Mental Health Association led to the housing units that bear his name — Abbott Gardens. He could always be counted on to sing the National Anthem at a public event. He would lend his strong, clear voice to speak on behalf of seniors, for literacy issues — along with his second wife Linda — and was a frequent writer of letters to the editor.

“He seemed to have as much energy in his 90s as he did in his 50s,” Anderson said.

Bud was chosen as Cranbrook’s Citizen of the Year in 1992. He has been the recipient of several Rotary Club awards, local and provincial theatre awards, Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal, and most honours that the City of Cranbrook could give.

“If I had to pick one word to describe Bud, I would use engaged,” said longtime friend Gerri Atchison. “He was engaged with everybody else, no matter who was sharing the moment with him. It didn’t matter if you were nine or 90. He was so genuine and generous.”

But everyone who knew him — and everybody did — knew him as one whose mission was to bring joy to those around. He sang at every opportunity at places like Joseph Creek and the F. W. Green Homes, and regularly at the Locals Coffeehouse concert series. He seldom turned down an opportunity to appear on stage, and if someone or some organization needed a hand, he was there to help, and often his involvement was what it took to bring a cause to fruition.

“This is sad news for all of us in Rotary, and in Cranbrook,” said Rotary Club President Ed Murray. “Bud was one of our most spirited and certainly inspirational members when it comes to giving back to our Rotary club and to our community, spanning decades and generations.

“As much as we have appreciated everything he has done as a Rotarian and as a citizen of Cranbrook, the incredible legacy of fond memories of Bud may be his greatest gift of all.

“Personally, I was most touched by Bud in 2012 when he voluntarily came to my mother’s funeral (she loved his singing at Joseph Creek Village) and sang one of her favourite songs for our family. He epitomized the term ‘One of a Kind’ like no one that I know ever has.”

“We are saddened to hear about the passing of Bud Abbott,” sayid Mayor Lee Pratt. “We recognize Bud’s many contributions to this community over the years through theatre and music, through service clubs like Rotary and of course being named Cranbrook’s Citizen of the Year in 1992. We send our sincerest condolences to Bud’s family and his many friends during this difficult time.”

Bud is survived by his children Louise, Christopher, Becky (Bret) and Greg; his grandchildren Steven, Philip, William and Joseph; his great grandchildren Antonia and Riley and numerous nieces and nephews around the world.

A Celebration of Bud’s life will be held 2 pm on Saturday, February 2, 2019 at the Heritage Inn, followed by a gathering at the Legion.

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