'I am just a typical TU volunteer'

By Chris Wood

Roberta and Curtis Cole are members of the board of the Shasta-Trinity-Cascades Chapter. Like dozens of others, they volunteered at the Trout Unlimited annual meeting in Redding this past weekend. The Coles are like many other members of their chapter—excep

t, their house burned to the ground in the Carr Fire.

Their drift boat and trailer melted. Every rod, reel and fly was lost. Photographs, books, clothes … everything they owned burned up. The Coles were in Montana when the fire started. Thankfully, Roberta’s 92 years-young mother escaped from the burning home in her pajamas in the middle of the night. The Coles’ home was one of 1,000 that burned in the Redding area; 200 more were damaged. The fire encompassed over 180 square miles, and led to the deaths of six people.

In late July, as the fires raged closer to Redding, I called Beverly Smith, the immensely talented leader of our volunteer operations department, and asked if we should cancel the meeting. She said, “Chris, the people of Redding want us to come.” My board was leery. I was leery. We went so far as to look at the language of the various contracts we had signed to better understand our liabilities if we had to cancel.

Michael Caranci, the chapter president, and an employee of The Fly Shop in Redding, a great TU business leader, affirmed that the community wanted us to come. On the opening night of the meeting, a county commissioner came to the welcome reception and agreed that Beverly and Michael were right.

As the meeting was winding down, I saw Rusty Berrier, a gifted bamboo rod-maker from North Carolina hand a package to the Cole’s as they left the hotel. Rusty is a gentle soul with a long gray ponytail. He told me about how he got involved in TU.

“In 1992, my dad and hero died suddenly from cancer. A few months later my grandfather passed. Suddenly, I was the only one left. One of the guys from church asked if I wanted to go trout fishing, and got me involved in Trout Unlimited. Since then, TU has been one of the best things in my life.”

As Rusty walked back into the hotel, I asked him, “Was that one of your bamboo rods you just gave to the Coles?” He looked away, and said, “They lost everything. They are living in a rental right now. They have nothing. Literally. Nothing. And they still came every day to help out at the annual meeting. This chapter is amazing. This whole community is amazing. Giving that rod was the least I could do.”

One of our outgoing trustees, Mick McCorcle, is fond of quoting David Brooks’ book, The Road to Character. In it, Brooks writes, “It occurred to me that there were two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”

Eulogy values define Trout Unlimited. Everyone would have understood if the Coles didn’t help out at the meeting. No one expected Rusty to give one of his beautiful rods to them, either. Last year, TU volunteers like Rusty and Roberta and Curtis Cole donated more than 700,000 hours of service this year to the communities they live, love and fish.

I hope you will join me in making a donation to the Shasta Regional Community Foundation. They are leading the disaster relief effort. Rusty wouldn’t accept my appreciation for his generosity, turning away and saying, “I am just a typical TU volunteer.”


Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works from TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.

By Chris Wood. Chris has worked at TU for 22 years, and is not the best angler, but he is among the most earnest.