The Tribune is paying tribute to those in our community lost to COVID-19. If you would like to share your family’s story, email Christy@CullmanTribune.com.
BAILEYTON, Ala.- And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24
These two verses, according to Wendell Guthrie’s family, describe his life. A life spent each morning in devotion and each day living for God.
Guthrie was born in 1942 in Arab Hospital but was brought home to Baileyton where he would live until his passing Dec. 18, 2020 from complications due to COVID-19. A 1960 graduate of Fairview High School, he married his true love, Martha, that following December. They celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary while Guthrie was in the hospital.
In their 60 years of marriage, Wendell and Martha Guthrie were never apart except for one week back when he was sent to a training class for King Edward Cigar Plant.
Son Benny Guthrie explained, “If he went to get gas for the lawnmowers, he would put the gas cans in the truck, and she would get in the truck and ride with him. They never left a morning without him saying I love you and kissing her bye. She got up every morning and cooked him breakfast- a biscuit, two pieces of sausage and a bowl of Crispix cereal with blueberries on it.”
Guthrie went straight to work out of high school at King Edward Cigar Plant in Cullman. When King Edward closed, he went to work for C. Buck Walker at Walker Brothers in Baileyton. He worked there for going on 38 years until he tested positive for COVID-19.
Benny Guthrie said of his father, whom he calls “Pop,” “He was saved and baptized when he turned 14 years old and he became a member of Baileyton Methodist Church and was a member there since then.” He said his dad volunteered at the Baileyton Volunteer Fire Department for a few years when it was founded.
Later, Guthrie was elected to the Baileyton Council, where he served for 16 years under Mayor Paul Bailey from 1996-2012.
“He loved the town, and he loved the community. He was involved in anything that went on. If the church doors were open, he was there,” said his son. “He had a love for that community that was just beyond. He and mom had a little yard Gator, and they would ride the side of the roads and pick up trash. The corner there at the school, he would get out and weed eat that corner just because he didn’t like seeing it growed up.”
Up until he got sick, each week Guthrie would help an elderly neighbor by taking her trash can to the road and back.
If there was an event in the community, at the school or at church, you could expect to see the Guthries there.
Said his son, “Chicken suppers, horse shows or anything, he was involved in.” Guthrie knew everyone in the town of Baileyton and loved them all. “He was unique. He never met a stranger. It didn’t matter where you went, if you had a doctor’s appointment, he would go out and sit on the park bench. He was a people watcher and knew everyone. Part of the reason he stayed working up until his death was because he was a people person, and he loved the camaraderie. He was true! He was that one who didn’t care to tell you if he didn’t agree with you. He just wasn’t rude about it or disrespectful. He didn’t talk a lot. He just sat back and listened. We laughed because he was kind of like E.F. Hutton- ‘When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.’ He was that kind of dad.”
Wendell and Martha Guthrie loved visiting the Smoky Mountains and would take off to the mountains several times a year.
Said Bennie Guthrie, “They just drove the roads. They loved the country up there.”
Guthrie loved his family and looked forward to Sunday dinner each week after church. He also enjoyed his dogs, being outdoors and working in the yard.
“He loved his rose bushes, flowers and feeding the birds. They were avid bird watchers and anything they could do together,” said his son.
When grandson Cameron played basketball at Martin Methodist, his grandparents were at every game regardless of where the team played.
It was Nov. 9 when Guthrie tested positive for COVID-19.
The son explained his father’s battle: “His oxygen level got really low and we took him and on the way he had a stroke. He actually beat COVID and came out of Cullman Regional COVID-free. He had a little COVID pneumonia left so we brought him home under home health and we had him at home. He was doing well. He was walking, eating, brushing his own teeth and talking to us. Everything was good. Seemingly, we were going forward.
“We had a problem with his sugar and a few days where he wasn’t eating or drinking well. The home health nurse came out and she thought he was dehydrated and needed fluids. An ambulance came to take him to CRMC, and we thought it was just to get some fluids in him. The doctors came out and explained there was a bleed on the stroke and that he had had a mild heart attack. The doctors couldn’t do anything there and dad would need to go to UAB.
“They were going to take him by ambulance and the ambulance would have to come out of Lawrence County. It was going to be almost four hours before they could get here to pick him up. This was all in the midst of COVID, because he tested positive again even though he was negative.”
Benny Guthrie said he was told people can test positive for up to six months even with no signs or symptoms of COVID. Martha Guthrie was allowed to stay with her husband while Benny Guthrie and other family sat in the Cullman Regional parking lot. That’s when she remembered that she and her husband paid $35 a year for Air Evac coverage. The coverage allowed Guthrie to be transported to UAB in 35 minutes rather than waiting for hours.
Benny Guthrie continued, “Just for getting the care he needed, there’s the ‘golden hour’ when stuff can happen, and the flight allowed him to get the treatment he needed then instead of waiting.”
The Town of Baileyton pays for basic coverage for its citizens to use Air Evac in the case of an emergency. Because the Guthries live within the town’s limits, they opted for the additional coverage in case they needed Air Evac when outside of Baileyton. Having that policy, said his son, secured Guthrie a 35-minute flight to UAB.
Once at UAB, Guthrie got well enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation center for physical, occupational and speech therapy. Benny and Martha Guthrie spoke to him on the phone while he was at rehab because family was not allowed inside.
“I called on a Monday and he wasn’t very talkative. He was very whispery and said that he needed family and someone to talk to. It just broke my heart,” said his son. “On Tuesday, I called and he answered the phone and he said, ‘Hello!’ and I could hear him and he sounded great and I got mom on the phone. It was a great conversation and we let him go so he could eat his lunch.”
A couple of hours later, Benny Guthrie received a call from the rehab nurse. They had discovered Guthrie unresponsive in his room after he aspirated on a piece of food. He was rushed to Grandview Hospital and was placed on a ventilator. The doctors were not very hopeful, and his blood sugar had dropped to 6.
Benny Guthrie continued through tears, “He was choking on that ventilator tube and the family made the decision to have it removed. He was moved to the ICU bed and physical therapy had actually gotten him up and walked him to the nurses’ desk. Things were looking better, but he was unable to swallow. The feeding tube didn’t work. The test came back bad. The flap in your throat that closes off when you swallow, that flap was not working. The only choice was a tube in his stomach. About two hours later, dad motioned and tried to take his oxygen mask off. He said, ‘No more.’ I said, ‘Talk to me dad, what do you mean ‘no more?’’ He pointed to his stomach and I asked him if he wanted the stomach tube gone. He said, ‘No more. I’m ready to go home.’ He said that he was ready to go home with mom for a little bit and then ready to go home to be with his Lord.”
Guthrie came home to Baileyton where he was able to say good-bye to his family. He died a day later.
“We knew time was short. We thought maybe three to four days. We didn’t think the next day. I pointed at dad and said, ‘I love you’ and he said to tell all the grandkids that he loved them. He just went to sleep so peaceful and took his last breath. I was an EMT so I had a stethoscope, so I was listening for his heartbeat. I heard his last heartbeat, and that might sound a little morbid, but it was also very special,” Benny Guthrie shared.
The family held a graveside service.
“They put the flags out. Dad loved the flags around the post office, and they put those out for him,” said an emotional Benny Guthrie. “When we turned to go down the road by the building supply, Walker’s had closed and every one of the employees were standing by the road. We turned into the cemetery and cars were everywhere. We guess maybe 150, but I don’t know for sure. It was a testament to dad’s life.
“He was ready and there is no doubt in my mind, mom’s mind and Randy’s mind. He was at peace and he was ready. The medical directors had ruled dad convalescent and moved him into a regular room at about midnight Dec. 2. Dec. 3 was mom and dad’s anniversary. They were able to eat and drink and share that moment. If you don’t believe in God, I don’t know how you can’t.”
Guthrie is survived by wife Martha, sons Benny and Randy, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Benny Guthrie and the family thanked the many doctors and nurses, especially those at Cullman Regional and hospice for the excellent care Guthrie.
“Dr. (Adam) Harrison and Dr. (Bill) Peinhardt were dad’s favorite doctors,” said his son.
Wendell Guthrie died Dec. 18. He was 78 years old.
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