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Hands Across The Saddle Meets Wilford Brimley’s $1M Goal In Final Year

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

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.

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Bill Sniffin: Wilford Brimley Represented Wyoming Well

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By Bill Sniffin, publisher Cowboy State Daily

In 1988 I watched as the grizzled ex-Marine Wilford Brimley approached the microphone at the One-Shot Antelope Hunt in Lander. He was one of the shooters that year and had entertained everyone with his jokes and stories.  We all thought he would make us laugh.

Without much fanfare, the grizzled movie veteran stepped up to the front of the audience.

The crowd readied itself for some sage advice or wicked humor from the actor.  The actor of such hits as Cocoon, The Thing, The China Syndrome, and Absence of Malice had been entertaining people for three days and expectations were high for some more western humor.

But not this time.  Brimley, who is a real ex-rancher, had talked sincerely throughout his weekend in Wyoming of his earlier lives as a ranch hand and blacksmith in Utah and being an unsuccessful sheep rancher in Idaho. He had known hardship and he appreciated the good life he was enjoying now as an actor.  He had been emotionally affected by his experience in the towering Wind River Mountains and the vast Red Desert.

It prompted him to recite some words, which moved the audience immensely.

Brimley recited four lesser-known verses of the song Home On The Range as a poem. Those verses were as follows:

How often at night when the heavens are bright with the light from the glittering stars, have I stood there amazed and asked as I gazed if their glory exceeds that of ours.

Oh, I love these wild flowers in this dear land of ours, the curlew I love to hear scream, and I love the white rocks and the antelope flocks that graze on the mountaintops green.

Oh, give me a land where the bright diamond sand flows leisurely down to the stream, where a graceful white swan goes gliding along like a maid in a heavenly dream.

Then I would not exchange my home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play; where seldom is heard a discouraging word and the skies are not cloudy all day.

He recited those verses with such love and intensity, nobody who witnessed it would soon forget it. You could hear a pin drop in the big room.

Brimley, 85, died this past weekend in St. George, Utah. He had been living in Greybull and Santa Clara, Utah, since 2006.

The curmudgeonly actor seemed to always play roles older than himself.  “I played fathers to guys 25 years older than me,” he once exclaimed.

In 2009, Brimley founded the nonprofit organization Hands Across the Saddle (HATS) in the Big Horn Basin. It has helped many impoverished families over the past decade.

Internet reports listed the following in telling about Brimley’s death Saturday: Anthony Wilford Brimley was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, on September 27, 1934.  Prior to his career in acting, he dropped out of high school to join the Marines, serving in the Aleutian Islands for three years.

He also worked as a bodyguard for businessman Howard Hughes, as well as a ranch hand, wrangler, and blacksmith. He then began shoeing horses for film and television. At the behest of his close friend and fellow actor, Robert Duvall, he began acting in the 1960s as a riding extra and stunt man in Westerns.

His first credited feature film performance was in The China Syndrome (1979) as Ted Spindler, a friend and coworker of plant shift supervisor Jack Godell (portrayed by Jack Lemmon). Later, Brimley made a brief, but pivotal, appearance in Absence of Malice (1981) as the curmudgeonly, outspoken Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Wells.

In the movie The Thing (1982) he played the role of Blair, the biologist with a group of men at an American research station in Antarctica who encounter a dangerous alien that can perfectly imitate other organisms.

Shortly thereafter, Brimley secured his first leading role in Ron Howard’s Cocoon (1985), portraying Ben Luckett, leader of a group of geriatrics who encounter a magically reinvigorating swimming pool by their retirement home. Brimley was only 49 when he was cast in the role, and turned 50 during filming; he was at least 20 years younger than any of the actors playing the other retirement home residents. In order to look the part, Brimley bleached his hair and moustache to turn them gray, and had wrinkles and liver spots drawn on his face.

Brimley had a supporting role in Did You Hear About the Morgans? (2009), making witty exchanges with star Hugh Grant. This movie purportedly takes place in Wyoming.

Brimley frequently appeared in commercials, notably a series of commercials for Quaker Oats Oatmeal throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Brimley was also known for appearing in numerous television advertisements for Liberty Medical, a company specializing in home delivery of medical products such as diabetes testing supplies.

Although not a native son, Brimley personified the Wyoming way of life. He made us proud.

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