Like a delicatessen or a laundry, I have a lot of repeat customers. But unlike a counterman or a cashier, I don't have much face to face contact with my regulars. I correspond with them, and I confer with them, but I seldom press the flesh.
One guy I'd always wanted to meet was a Levey Loyalist in Woodstock, Va., by the name of Dennis F. Butler. But I never did -- and now I never will.
Dennis starred in B.L.'s Wash a couple of years ago when he tried -- and failed -- to give blood to the Red Cross. Medical staffers said that even though Dennis was in perfect health, he was a year older than their maximum age. I thought that was ridiculous, and so did Dennis. Thus was born a column -- and a friendship.
Dennis stoked the friendly fires with money a month ago when he read my account of John Davenport. John is a good samaritan who foiled a purse snatching on a downtown street but broke his leg in the process.
Like many readers, Dennis sent a check to help John cover his medical bills. But John wanted no help. So I wrote back to Dennis (as I wrote back to every Davenport contributor) to tell him to make a new check payable to Children's Hospital, at John's request.
My letter to Dennis was dated Nov. 15. I'm told that it arrived in Woodstock on Nov. 17. But Dennis was in Buffalo that day, visiting a relative.
The next day, he and the relative went to see the Buffalo Bills play (and defeat) the Dallas Cowboys. A few minutes after the final whistle, in a stadium parking lot, Dennis was getting behind the wheel when he collapsed and died. He was 70.
On Nov. 29, a letter arrived, postmarked "Woodstock, Va." Inside was a check, made out to Children's, and a note, presumably written by a family member.
"Mr. Butler passed away 11-18-84," it read. "But know that he would want the check rewritten."
Here's what I know: the hospital is richer with Dennis's check, but the world is poorer without him. Thanks to a good guy, and condolences to his family.