Happy Birthday, Phil Petty

When you are young and just learning about annual occasions, like birthdays, the fact that people celebrate your birth is a big deal. Of course, the thing that endears birthdays to most children is the fact that people give them gifts, not so much that they remember them and their birthday.

As you reach old age and have become accustomed to the annual celebration, gifts become less important and remembrance takes on greater significance. Most of us appreciate the fact that our friends recall, amidst their busy schedules and preoccupations with their own lives, the fact that a particular day is our birthday. The greeting card becomes evidence that they took time out from their own self-absorbed lives to remember us and our birthday. Or at least that was the way it used to be.

Now in the age of the Internet we can wait until we are prompted by a personal information manager or some other calendar program that our friend’s birthday has arrived and then at the last minute we can dash off an email to wish them well on their day. The computer’s ability to recall things we humans have difficulty recalling is a great aid, but I’m afraid it leaves us less attentive to our friends than we might otherwise have to be.

Today, June 13th, is my friend, Phil Petty’s, 74th birthday. So I thought I’d make this entry to celebrate our long friendship and to send my wishes his way.

Phil and I met back around 1973 because of our mutual love for singing Barbershop music. He was already a member of the Atlanta Peachtree Chapter of the S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A. when I joined. My first memory of him was his serving as the chairman of the committee to sell tickets for the Atlanta Peachtree Chapter’s annual show. He made a really very thorough and impressive presentation to the group about how to identify potential sales by categorically going through your circle of acquaintances and contacts and just asking for the sale, even from strangers that you encountered. And that was both his profession and one of his greatest talents. He was and is a salesman from the depths of his being in the truest sense of that word.

But we became friends mostly because we both loved to laugh. Phil sang in a number of chapter quartets prior to our becoming close friends, and he had a rich, resonant bass voice that always contributed greatly to his quartets’ success. About 1975, at a time when he was in between quartets, we decided to sing together, forming a quartet together with Forrest Umberger and Bob Wilson, two others with wonderful senses of humor, that we called The Fun Addicts. Now being in a quartet together, particularly one that does a lot of shows, means that you must spend a lot of time with each other practicing and traveling to performances. Those years of singing together were among the happiest of my life as we strove to improve our singing and to keep up with the active schedule that Phil’s salesmanship arranged for us. Our group was remarkably compatible because we enjoyed having fun together, and we were able to take that sense of fun on stage with us. Our audiences got a chance to join in the fun with us while we performed. Hence the name we chose, and hence the basis for our popularity at the time.

Although our quartet stayed together for only about 3 years and was disbanded because of my move out of town, our friendship has remained through the years. When I moved to Knoxville in 1979, we lost contact with each other for 6 or 8 years, but we renewed our friendship when computers began to give us the ability to keep in touch electronically, and we’ve stayed in touch that way since that time. On rare occasions we have a reunion and our group gets together just to relive old times and enjoy each other’s company once again.

I’ve spent many a night in Phil’s home, thanks to his and his wife, Hazel’s, generosity, and I’ve spent many hours on the phone with him, usually late at night because he is a night owl and tends to call me just as I am about to go to bed. I kid him about this practice but I tolerate it because I enjoy hearing from him, even if the next morning finds me dragging because of our late night conversations. Just as Seinfield was said to be a show “about nothing” so our conversations tend to be “about nothing.” We talk at length just to share the time. The topics are usually of little importance, but the time shared is.

I consider myself fortunate to have a friend like Phil. He has a heart of gold and is always eager to laugh at even the most feeble of my attempts at humor. In many ways, that is one of the things that causes someone to become a friend, I think. They exhibit goodwill toward you and enjoy your company, and as someone once said, they are “someone who knows all about you and likes you in spite of it.” Phil knows my flaws and seems to like me despite them.

I am pleased to honor him today with this entry and wish him the very best on his birthday.

Happy birthday, Phil, and thank you for your friendship through the years!

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