Rest in Peace Mildred Dowdley, Bill Bryan, and Betty Fuller of Bessemer, Alabama

Every now and then — more often than I like — I mark the passing of one of the great pit masters or founders of barbecue places and other great restaurants.  I did with another Bessemer place, then to remember Mr. Jimmy Koikos of the Bright Star.  I think it’s important to recognize their contribution.

The current lockdown of our country, though, has really brought to the surface who the really important people are.  We tend to think that the important people are the big shots,  such as out political leaders.  They certainly have their role, but when you get down to it they are eminently replaceable.  Who can be more important to you than, say, a plumber?  You cannot live without the many, many people who get the food to you.  The really important people, the people we need, are the ones who rarely get recognition.  I have a special fondness for restaurants like B.E. Scott’s and Gianmarco’s, who give their entire staffs a moment in the spotlight.  Bob Sykes Bar B Q is another.

I’m thinking about this because Bob Sykes suffered three losses recently.  First, Ms. Mildred Dowdley, passed on April 6 after 78 good years, and then Mr. Bill Bryan succumbed on April 15 at 67.  Both fell victim to cancer .

Here’s what Bob Sykes Bar B Q posted about Mildred Dowdley:

Heaven gained another angel….Mildred Dowdley who worked at Bob Sykes from 1965-2015 lost her battle with cancer. Owner Van Sykes says, “I had the privilege of seeing this beautiful smiling face for 50 years. Mildred’s wonderful Christian spirit lives in all of us. I know you have joined the Heavenly Host of those who went before you. RIP, my friend.”

And here’s their post about Bill Bryan:

Bill Bryan aka Mr. Bill worked with us at Bob Sykes BBQ for over 15 years. He lost a courageous battle with cancer on April 15th. You cannot look two feet in any direction in Bob Sykes’s building without seeing his handiwork. He fixed, built, repaired and improved everything in that building. He was a big part of setting up the Bob Sykes BBQ & Blues Festival every year. He was patient and kind to so many people. He helped many Bob Sykes employees with home repairs and then would not take any pay. I will personally miss sharing my morning coffee and conversations with him. May his memory be eternal. The Bob Sykes family loves you and misses you dearly. RIP our dear friend.

And just as I was about to post this, the Bob Sykes family had another loss.

Our dear friend and co worker, Betty Fuller passed away unexpectedly on April 18th, 2020. She enjoyed her last day celebrating her Son’s birthday with her beloved family. Betty passed peacefully in her sleep. Betty and I started working together when I was 17 years old. We literally grew up together. She was the last surviving employee that worked in the original Bessemer location. Betty was one of the hardest working people that I have ever known. She enjoyed working. We had fun. We had laughs and tears. She was an employee and friend for 45 years. She retired in 2016. Betty’s whole life was about providing for-and loving her family. I know that because we spent our lives together. We worked 6 days a week for decades. Betty was so much more than just an employee. Bob Sykes BBQ and the Sykes family were so blessed that she was a part of our history but more importantly a part of our lives. I ask you to pray for Betty’s children and grandchildren during this difficult time. Lift them up, Oh Lord. RIP Betty. May her memory be eternal. We love you.

You can see their photos by going to Bob Sykes Bar-B-Q Facebook page, and see the comments from people who knew, loved, and respected them.  Miss Mildred is remembered on an April 10 post, Mr. Bill on April 17, and Miss Betty on April 21.  So many blows to fall on one family, and at a time when they cannot gather together to grieve, when we cannot hug each other.  It wounds my heart.

But life goes on.  It must.  The Bob Sykes team — the family — is still cooking great barbecue.  They’ll again host the annual Barbecue and Blues Festival.  (It’s now set for September 12.  If you don’t live in Alabama, make your reservations now.  September 12 is scheduled to be a Game Day in Tuscaloosa, and rooms will be hard to come by.)  You should go to Bob Sykes for some good barbecue and to help keep them afloat in a very tough time.  But first, pause and say a prayer for Miss Mildred and Mr. Bill and Miss Betty, three good souls who worked to make so many lives better.  And think about all the other people whom you usually overlook, and thank them as you go through your day.

One thought on “Rest in Peace Mildred Dowdley, Bill Bryan, and Betty Fuller of Bessemer, Alabama

  1. Very appropriate

    On Tue, Apr 21, 2020 at 8:39 AM John Tanner’s Barbecue Blog wrote:

    > John Tanner posted: “Every now and then — more often than I like — I > mark the passing of one of the great pit masters or founders of barbecue > places and other great restaurants. I did with another Bessemer place, > then to remember Mr. Jimmy Koikos of the Bright Star. I thi” >

    Like

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