Bert Crump, a gentle man with a magnificent heart, looked out on the world from his brilliant blue eyes and clearly saw his mission in life — taking care of family, friends, customers and strangers.
Born in 1927 on the edge of the Great Depression, Bert grew up on a farm between Jasper and Townley. He was the next to the youngest in a family of eight sons and four daughters. Day-to-day life was a persistent struggle for a family surviving on a logger’s income. Missing many school days in order to help on the farm, Bert also battled dyslexia in an era when no one really understood how to help him overcome a learning disability that would not be such a hurdle today. So he left school in the third grade, unable to read and write more than his name.
As a youngster, Bert was frequently responsible for getting the mules to the place where his father was logging and those long, heavy-duty days often ended after dark. But over the course of his life, he never dwelled on the difficulties of his growing up years and actually incorporated those hard fought lessons into a lifelong, steel-strong, work ethic.
By the time he was 21, Bert and his brother Raymond owned a used car business on Birmingham Avenue. As a young adult, Bert was already on his way to a successful career as a car salesman, fueled by his innate optimism and unrelenting determination.
Merely by chance, Bert met 16-year-old Edith Ann Laird at her sister and brother-in-law’s grocery store in Townley. Edith Ann vividly remembers, “He drove up and the first thing I saw were the most beautiful blue eyes I have ever seen… Oh, they were beautiful.” The couple dated for two years and married the fall after Edith Ann graduated from high school.
Edith Ann worked side by side with Bert in all the different car businesses they owned over their 62-year marriage. She easily laughed as she recalled that Bert never owned a vehicle in all those years. Often he found a car he really liked and proclaimed he would keep it, but “two days later it was sold.”
Always wanting the best for her, Bert bought Edith Ann a 1956 Chevy with 5,000 miles on it in the mid-60s and she still owns it. Holding on to most of the original features including paint, upholstery and radio, this vintage memento’s odometer registers only 33,000 miles.
Bert’s granddaughter, Cristy Shubert Moody, described the essence of her grandfather’s devotion to the car business when she expressed this thought at his funeral in January. “He loved selling cars. He loved the competition and the money he made, but mostly he loved matching people with something they love and watching them drive away in it. I think he was such a great salesman because he loved people. He would tell you he was not a great communicator, he couldn’t hear well, and his vocabulary wasn’t full of flowery speech. But I think he found his calling in selling cars because he cared and would do everything in his power to help someone drive away in what they wanted.”
In his later years when Bert became less directly involved in the car business, Edith Ann smiled as she explained, “He retired and bought a bulldozer and a dump truck and started filling in the world…” Buying and developing property, including Kimwood Estates and Crump Village, became another focus for Bert’s time and energy.
Like many other families, Bert’s grandchildren treasure being the keepers of the stories of their grandfather. He lost his only grandson, Matthew, and Matthew’s father and mother, Bobby and Jan Crump, in the crash of their airplane four years ago. But Bert’s daughter Susan’s children, Cristy Moody and Kim Shubert DeShazo, graciously share their memories of their “Daggy” in the unique, thoughtful voices of granddaughters raised closely with their grandparents.
Mindful of his quiet faith, Cristy recalls the special moments when Edith Ann read to Bert from the Bible each morning before he left for work and the small pocket Bible, which belonged to his great granddaughter, he carried in his shirt pocket. As Christy noted, “This Bible was always in his shirt pocket right over his heart, because he realized how important God’s word is, even if he couldn’t read it.”
On a lighter note, Christy reflected on the generosity of her grandfather’s heart with the story of a customer who risked repossession of a vehicle Crump Wholesale had financed. Coming in after being asked to make a payment on a past due account, the customer managed to have a word alone with Bert, asking him what he could do to help since the customer did not have enough to make a full payment. In response, Bert opened his wallet and gave the customer the necessary amount. His unequivocal compassion extended to strangers and places he had no direct connection to as well.
Savoring times alone with her grandfather when he took her out to the pasture with him to check on the cows, Kim notes the basic life lessons he taught her on those short journeys — the importance of family, the role of positive attitude, the pricelessness of honesty and perseverance. At 12, Bert trusted her enough to begin to teach her to drive in the pasture.
As only a grandfather can, Bert took up for Kim when she felt her mother was being too hard on her. “My kids cry for their grandmother when they get hurt or in trouble. Not me, I knew that Nanny would take mom’s side. I’d sit in my room and cry for Daggy.” When she was about four and learned to recognize numbers, Kim memorized the car lot number. “…I knew that if I called and asked for him, he’d come get me. And then he’d scold my mama for fussing at me.” A simple man of tremendous depth, Bert Crump thrived on being a caretaker for every life he touched. Living a life of unfettered caring, he found his place and his peace.
Margaret Dabbs is a freelance columnist who resides in Jasper. Her column appears every other Wednesday in the Lifestyles section. Comments and suggestions are welcomed by contacting Dabbs at 205-387-2890.