Brookneal lost a devoted community servant with the passing of William Payne Guthrie earlier this month. He was 91 years old.
“Billy” Guthrie, husband of the late Mildred “Millie” Hickson Guthrie, called Brookneal home his whole life.
“He was the most unselfish person I have ever known,” Guthrie’s daughter, Brenda Short, said about her father.
Short, who currently runs Guthrie’s Hardware along with Manager Kevin Bray, and her son, James Short, presided over her father’s funeral service at Brookneal Baptist Church on March 6.
Short said the service was a celebration of life—a life that, though it was full of family, service to others and success in business, wasn’t always easy. But perhaps that’s why Guthrie lived the way he did. Short cites a line from Thomas Paine as one of her father’s favorite quotes:
“What we achieve too easily, we esteem too lightly, for it’s dearness that gives a thing its value.”
Born in 1930, Billy Guthrie grew up in the Great Depression. He lost his father at a young age, and started working at the Drugstore Grill, then called Brookneal Drug, at the age of 11.
“He couldn’t even reach over the counter,” Short said.
She said her father remembered living in Brookneal during World War II, when a guard stood alert at the railroad trestle each night, and the streetlights were turned off late at night.
Money was tight for most in Brookneal during Guthrie’s childhood, but Short said the community was always there for a young Billy.
“I think that’s why he wanted to be there for others,” Short said.
Guthrie attended the University of Richmond as a young man, going to work for Pacific Mills afterwards.
While at Pacific Mills, one of Guthrie’s neighbors, a Mr. Midkiff, told him he wanted to sell his hardware store. Shortly thereafter Guthrie, who knew nothing about hardware, bought the store he would run for the next 64 years.
“He studied books about hardware and everything he could find about hardware,” Short said. “That happened in 1954.”
Guthrie gained a reputation as an honest man to do business with, and a formidable salesman.
Short said he used to tell passers-by to come in his store and buy something, “because the wolf is at the door.”
Guthrie was a man of many interests. He loved the Eastern Bluebird and set up roughly 400 bluebird houses in and around Brookneal during his lifetime.
“What Johnny Appleseed was to trees, my dad was to bluebird houses,” Short said.
He also had a lifelong love of music. Short said it was one of the thrills of her father’s life to direct the Marine Corps band, which he talked the director into when the band came to perform at E.C. Glass High School.
During his life Guthrie served as a deacon, trustee, Sunday school teacher and choir member at Brookneal Baptist Church, was a member of the Staunton River Masonic Lodge, Brookneal Town Council, Brookneal Chamber of Commerce and Brookneal Volunteer Fire Department, and was an honorary member of the Brookneal Garden Club. He served on the Board of Directors of Central Fidelity Bank, the Campbell County IDA and EDC and the Patrick Henry Boys and Girls Home Board of Trustees, as well as the home’s executive committee. He was the home’s longest-serving board member, and received the Virginia Association of Children’s Homes Distinguished Board Member Award in 2001. He was also a chartered member of the National Wild Turkey Federation, and was awarded the Virginia State Chapter Hall of Fame Award in 2016.
Short said her father was also a loving and devoted family man.
His son, William James Guthrie, passed away at the age of 13, but per his obituary Guthrie kept the faith even after his son passed, and strove to help others experiencing similar pain afterwards.
Short said her father was a man of God who believed in the power of prayer, and who loved spending time with his grandchildren.
When asked about Mr. Guthrie’s life and legacy, Brookneal Town Manager Russell Thurston replied that when people think of Brookneal, they also think of Guthrie’s Hardware.
“Mr. Guthrie was a fine man,” a message from Thurston reads. “He will be greatly missed. Guthrie’s Hardware is still going strong and his legacy will live on for many generations. I am thankful for having the opportunity to know Mr. Guthrie. Our loss here on earth, is certainly Heaven’s gain. His example as a Godly man, in business, as a public servant, and as a leader for his family is an inspiring example of a true and wise gentleman.”
Guthrie retired at 88 years old. He passed away peacefully, per his obituary.
The service held for him at Brookneal Baptist was full of music, featuring the Epperson Brothers, a local band, and the church’s organ and piano. Various family friends and former employees spoke, including Willard Hamlett, Glenn Smith, Richard Holt and Ricky Fisher.
“It was a service that daddy would have loved,” Short said.
Though Guthrie has passed, both Bray and Short emphasized that Guthrie’s Hardware will remain open.
Short said she thinks her father, ever eager to welcome newcomers into town, would want to see Brookneal continue to grow and evolve to face the future.
“He was a simple man,” Short said, “who lived a large life.”