Here’s a question to ponder: How many flat tires can a man fix in 60 years?
The world may never know, but there is someone who probably could come close to providing the answer.
Ledford Brady of Bennett operated B & B Tire Service at Harpers Crossroads in southwest Chatham County from its opening April 1, 1968, until, as he says, he “just sort of didn’t go back” after his wife Virginia passed away in December 2019. Prior to going into business with his friend Marvin Brewer, he worked at Budd Tire Company in Siler City for nine years, giving him 60 years of flats, repairs, recaps and radials.
“The reality,” said Raymond Brewer, Marvin’s son and current B & B manager, “is Ledford is B & B Tire. He built it on the biggest thing we had to offer — service. Today business is different. The biggest change is how much is done online. But service is still what we offer, and Ledford built B & B on service.”
Last weekend, as part of the annual Bennett Flatwoods Festival, his community came together to say thanks and celebrate him receiving the Order of the Longleaf Pine, North Carolina’s most prestigious civilian award. Bestowed by the governor, it’s presented to individuals who, the award’s website says, “have a proven record of extraordinary service to the state (through) contributions to their communities, extra effort in their careers and many years of service to their organizations.”
Brady’s credentials for the award touch all those bases and more. In addition to offering goods and services at the retail level, B & B Tire also provided employment opportunities for many residents. And usually when someone joined the workforce, they stayed.
“When we first opened, I thought I could do it all,” Brady says. “After trying that about a month, one day, Benny Williamson came by. He was a truck driver, but I said, ‘Benny, I need some help. How about coming to work here?’ He said, ‘OK, when do you want me to start?’ I said Monday, and he stayed with us 45 years.” Other notable lengths of service include Mike Neal with 52 years, Eugene Dowdy with almost 20 and two holdovers still at the business before Brady retired — Brad Gaines with 25 years and Joseph Dunlap, the new kid on the block, already at eight years.
Brady was also a longtime member of the Bennett Volunteer Fire Department. In 1973, he and other community members created the South Chatham Lions Club, and for 45 years he was a board member of Central Carolina Farmers Mutual Insurance Co. in the nearby town of Robbins. He donated time and money to the Harpers Crossroads Community Center, often sponsoring teams for children and adults. And he and his wife, Virginia, were heavily involved in the lives of area schools, where their three children excelled.
While those areas and others are important to him, a big part of his heart and life goes to his church, Fall Creek Baptist, where he’s served in almost every capacity except as pastor. Through the years, he was involved in ministry and missions projects, both locally and on the state level, especially building renovations at the N.C. Baptist Assembly at Fort Caswell on Oak Island.
It was his friendship with Brewer, Brady says, that went a long way toward making B & B Tire a success. “Marvin had a vision,” Brady said, “and wasn’t afraid to take a chance. I wasn’t quite that brave. I had a good job working at Budd Tire. Obie (Budd) offered me a job one day when I went in to pay a bill. He told me his recapping man had quit and he needed someone and would I come to work for him.
“Well, at the time I didn’t know anything about tires, but Obie said he’d train me and he did. I went from recapping tires to running a sales route, and then Marvin said he was going to build a tire store because there was a lot of business in the area and he wanted me to run it. I doubt I’d be here if Marvin hadn’t put up the money and built the building.
“I told him that seemed like a big gamble but he always took the position, ‘If I lose it, I’ll just lose something I didn’t have before’ and we’ll just go on. So he built the store and we started. My thought was that we were to serve and help the community and make it a better place.”
Now that Brady has retired and Brewer has passed away, the business is under second generation management. Raymond Brewer knew it was important to honor Brady.
“He worked as much as he could during Virginia’s illness but when she was in the hospital, he was there with her,” Brewer said. “Then COVID came along, and we never had an ‘official’ retirement. So we closed the business Saturday and encouraged the community to come see Ledford.”
And Brewer, who returned home to work in the business, sees the big picture.
“What Ledford has done is a reminder how lucky we are to live in a community where so many put service above self like he did with the fire department and the schools and the church,” he said. “It’s like a LEGO puzzle. Someone asked a long time ago why we didn’t put the business in town, and the answer was it was needed here.”
Brady still comes to visit B & B from time to time, and he said, “People ask me, ‘Don’t you like retirement?’ And I say, ‘I really miss the people.’”
There’s also a third generation around now — Brewer’s son David has spent a couple of years learning the business after completing college.
But the legacy Brady built at B & B Tire lives on.
“There are two things I can’t stand to hear,” he said. “One is ‘I can’t,’ and the other is ‘I don’t care.’ If you say ‘I can’t,’ that tells me you’re not trying to learn. And ‘I don’t care’ is like what Marvin used to say — if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”
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