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Letter to the Editor — Remembering Budd Lynch

Devin Keast remembers the late Wyandotte resident and Detroit Red Wings announcer.

In 2006, I wrote a play called Sudbury. It was a short, one-act comedy which took place at a hockey rink in a central Ontario town of the same name, and it was set during the moments leading up to a pee-wee game. I had Budd Lynch in mind to play himself for the part of the rink's public address announcer.

As a 23-year-old struggling writer, authoring my first play at the time, I was completely unsure of how to go about making such an inquiry, and to someone of Budd Lynch's stature. So, I wrote a letter one afternoon, from a cafe near my Chicago apartment, and mailed it to Joe Louis Arena, trusting that it would eventually find Mr. Lynch. I explained that I had written a play, offering a brief synopsis, and how I wanted to cast the Detroit Red Wings' Hall of Fame announcer as himself, proposing we record him reading his lines, so that he wouldn't even have to be present for any of the play's storefront theatre performances.

A few weeks later, I received a phone call. It was Budd. He said he'd do it. "Come on out to the house," he said.

I told him that I would be honored, and that I would be in touch before my trip. Then, I thanked him, addressing him as "Mr. Lynch."

"Budd's my name," he said.

I arrived at Budd Lynch's Michigan home shortly after ten, on a Saturday morning in October, 2006. When the door swung open, I was greeted by an 89-year-old man with bed hair, who was in nothing but his boxer shorts and an undershirt. "Did ya find the place alright?" asked Budd. Nothing could have made this meeting seem more like a routine encounter with an old pal. But, I was stepping into the home of a Hall of Fame broadcaster, a man who, for over fifty years, had been lending his greatest instrument — his voice — to the everlasting art form of communication, and I was meeting him for the first time.

It was impossible for me to remind myself that I was there on business as Budd insisted we precede our recording session with a cup of tea in the living room. We shared stories about our respective professions, our ties to Sudbury, Ontario (my grandfather was a nickel miner there, in the 1940s) and our love for Detroit, where my parents were both born and raised.

After nearly an hour of conversation, we adjourned to the kitchen for a table-reading of the script. Budd put his glasses on and looked over his lines. Then, he stopped, grabbed a pen, and asked if he could change something.

"In this part, here," Budd said, pointing at his first of two lines, "When I ask the fans to rise for the National Anthem, I'd rather not tell anyone to remove their caps, but instead, suggest they remove their caps. I'd like to change this line from 'Please, remove your caps' to 'May I suggest you remove your cap?'"

"Well, Budd, you are playing yourself," I said, giving him my blessing while remembering how young and inexperienced I was, even in my own field, compared to the seasoned veteran across the table.

After Budd penned-in his desired line, we turned on the microphone and recorded his part in one take.

***

About two years after Sudbury opened, following a breakup with my girlfriend, I found myself looking for a temporary escape, and moved from Chicago, Illinois to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where I would eventually write the follow-up to that short, one-act comedy. While I was there, I took a weekend job as the radio broadcaster for Eastern Michigan University's club hockey team. It was a job for which I accepted twenty-five dollars a game, but it was a way for me to continue to exercise my communication skills, before live audiences, while on my sabbatical.

A month into the hockey season, I received a phone call. It was Budd. "Congratulations on your new assignment!" he said.

I recalled sending Budd a postcard, mentioning my happenings, and thinking that maybe I would hear back from him, and maybe I wouldn't. Still, when taking a job as the broadcaster of a club hockey team, one doesn't expect to get a congratulatory phone call from a recipient of The Foster Hewitt Memorial Award.

I asked Budd if he could offer any advice. He told me to be myself, and to be as generous as I could be to my listening audience, suggesting I illustrate every detail of any information I would relay. "Remember," Budd said, "Your listening audience cannot see what you're describing. They can only imagine what you're describing."

After that, Budd and I remained in touch, dialing each other up on occasion, with the subject usually alluding to hockey, and each conversation ending with Budd suggesting I stay in touch.

***

Long before I became a comedian, before I became a playwright, or a college hockey broadcaster, I was a kid growing-up outside of Detroit. I attended Red Wings games at Joe Louis Arena, where I idolized players such as Steve Yzerman, Dino Ciccarelli, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Mike Vernon, while fascinated by the gentleman behind the microphone — the public address announcer — and his voice, which I admired so much.

Budd Lynch had a voice that truly spoke for itself, by which I mean that he used his voice to communicate and relay information, and he never catered to an audience by offering anything other than his natural self. Budd appreciated language, and that was evident in how well he took care of it, considering he seemed to care for every word he uttered, and that made him so easy to listen to.

Whereas I am a product of a generation consumed with television, Twitter, and text messages, Budd simply communicated with live audiences, and he did so sincerely and genuinely. And in the ninetieth year of his life, when Budd Lynch offered his expertise to a short, one-act, storefront theatre comedy, which I had expected maybe a hundred people to see, he offered his natural self, because he was sincere and genuine in everything he did.

Sudbury will always be special to me. It was my first play, and something of which I am still proud. And while it will always be the play on which I worked with the Detroit Red Wings' Hall of Fame broadcaster and public address announcer, Budd Lynch, it also introduced me to the Budd Lynch who had you out to the house, the Budd Lynch who answered the door in his underwear, and the Budd Lynch who happily offered his expertise to a short, one-act, storefront theatre comedy, even if only a hundred people were to see it, because that was Budd. To him, there was no stature, and there was no reason to call him anything other than by his first name. That was Budd, and that's the Budd who I will really miss.

Devin Keast is from Chicago.

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