A hand up, not a hand out.
That was actor Wilford Brimley’s goal 13 years ago when he put in motion the first “Hands Across the Saddle” (HATS) event in Greybull. And he had a vision.
“He said, ‘by the time this is said and done, you’ll raise a million bucks,’” recalled Scott Good, the Greybull resident who partnered with Brimley since the beginning.
This past weekend, the committee dedicated to raising funds to help those who need a “hand up” reached that goal, surpassing Brimley’s hopes.
“By dinner last night, we had surpassed a million,” Good said Sunday, noting that the final amount wouldn’t be tallied until sometime Monday.
Brimley, who passed away just less than a year ago, left behind a legacy of quietly helping others. Since moving to Wyoming in 2000, the award-winning character actor spent his time on his Greybull property with his wife Beverly and a select few friends – including Good.
“He was an L.A. Dodgers fan, I’m an L.A. Dodgers fan,” Good said. “And so when the Dodgers were on TV, when he lived here, he would call me to come down and watch.
Or he might call me five times during the course of a ballgame to talk baseball. He didn’t text, he didn’t use the computer, but he picked up the phone — and a conversation with Wilford might last 30 seconds, it might last three or four minutes. I miss those phone calls,” Good said.
Good has been the public face of HATS over the last 13 years, although he said Brimley, who was also a singer, was the driving force. The purpose behind the annual fundraising events, according to Good, was to help those who didn’t qualify for public assistance.
He shared a story that Brimley told the original 13 people he had hand-picked to lead the fundraiser — Brimley had been at the local grocery store and the woman in front of him didn’t have enough money to pay for the small amount of groceries she was trying to buy.
“It just broke Wilford’s heart,” Good said. “He said, ‘I could have leaned forward and paid for her groceries.’ But he said, with that generation, ‘They would have lost all self-respect if I’d done that, because those people are proud.’”
The committee dedicated to overseeing the funds had very strict guidelines on how the money was to be used.
“We have never paid an administrative fee,” Good said proudly. “I’m not paid, obviously, nobody on the committee is. We all donate our time. And so the money goes where it needs to go.”
That group has given out more than $800,000 over the last 13 years — and it has been given to people who, in Good’s words, have “fallen through the cracks.”
“If you are an unwed mother with five kids, DFS has taken care of you, and Social Security’s taking care of you, and unemployment and all of that — you know, there are government agencies that are taking care of you,” he said. “If you’re a hard-working person, and it’s just not fair, you know, something happens that throws the whole thing into disarray, your medical (costs), you’re laid off, anything like that.”
Over the years, many high-profile actors and musicians have brought a celebrity presence to the annual Hands Across the Saddle events, including singers Gary Morris and Lacy J. Dalton, the band Riders In the Sky and actress Katharine Ross.
But for this final event, Good says the group has come full circle.
“Thirteen years ago, we had no idea what we were doing,” Good said. “Red Steagall came in with his Boys In the Bunkhouse Band and put on a hell of a show out at Shell. As far as I can tell, Red was one of Wilford’s closest friends.”
This year’s HATS 12 (last year’s event was canceled because of the pandemic) was a major success, Good said Sunday. Not only did the committee reach its $1 million goal, Gov. Mark Gordon was at the event to personally proclaim July 17, 2021, as “Wilford Brimley Day” in honor of Brimley’s efforts to help his fellow Wyomingites.
“You know, we pride ourselves on, for 13 years, being apolitical,” Good said. “We don’t care what party affiliation you are, we’re there to raise money to help people. And he came in, he was an absolute trouper, and knocked it out of the park.”
Good described how Gordon served food to the entire dinner crowd before taking time to eat his own meal, even posing for photos — but Good said the governor’s focus was on the purpose of the gathering, which was helping people and honoring Wilford Brimley.
“It was a special event for a special guy, and it went without a hitch,” he said.