If you regularly filled up your vehicle with gas at Vernon Esso-Tim Hortons Express on 32nd Street or bought your morning double-double there, maybe your lottery tickets, you knew Larry Brewster.
Maybe not by name, not at first. Maybe over time. But you knew his smile, his laugh.
Brewster was the early morning man at Esso. If you were a customer, he considered you a friend. He’d arrive between 3:30 and 4 a.m. for a shift that started at 5 a.m., and if you were on Brewster’s A-list, a knock on the window before the 5 a.m. opening time got you a bright infectious smile and, in the door, to get your coffee or tea.
If you wanted to stay for a while and chat, even better.
“Larry was the face of the Vernon Esso,” said friend and former boss Keith Wood, now manager of the Armstrong Regional Co-op Gas Bar. “If he could make you happy, then he was happy.”
Born a day after Jan. 1 in 1944 in Winnipeg, Brewster’s life got off to an auspicious start.
He was dumped into a garbage can in a back alley of the ‘Peg. He was found, in time, by a passerby, dirty and cold. Brewster was adopted to his parents and life, for a while, became good.
He would spend many years in Castlegar, including the Great Flood Year of 1948 where, at age four, he watched his house float away down the Columbia River.
Brewster and his folks moved to Vancouver. As a young teen, he ended up living with just his adopted father who would abandon Brewster in an east-end hotel room.
If nothing else, Brewster was a survivor and soldiered on. The family of one of his close friends took him in. He delivered newspapers, worked in a gas station, held many other odd jobs.
Brewster worked for one gas company during the day and another at night as he was trying to save money to purchase a house.
He worked his way up to being an agent and operator of three Shell stations in Vancouver which included the first self-serve gas station to open in Canada in 1968. Brewster ignored his friends’ who chastized him upon the purchase that “no one will buy gas from you if they must pump their own.”
Brewster arrived in the Okanagan in 1987, and came through Wood’s door at Mohawk Gas looking for work.
“He handed me a resume that I thought for sure was exaggerated. No one could have that much experience,” laughed Wood. “But his smiling face and happy positive attitude led me to hire him regardless of what I thought was an embellished resume, which it turned out not to be.”
That, said Wood, turned into 25 years of fun.
There was never a dull day if you had the privilege of working with Brewster, a cheerful, outgoing happy man.
After four years with Mohawk, Wood moved to Vernon Esso and brought Brewster with him. In 1996, the store was rebuilt with a self-serve station and the Tim’s Express.
In 25 years of working with Wood, Brewster never missed a day of work. Never. Holidays? Well, those he took, up to four weeks a year. But he was at Vernon Esso Wednesday to Sunday at 5 a.m. for a quarter-century. He wanted Mondays and Tuesdays off so he could kayak and ski, two of his favourite pastimes.
Larry Brewster died peacefully in his sleep on May 9, at age 78. He was suffering from dementia and died at a Vernon care facility.
Wood, friends, coworkers and loyal customers of Brewster have been pooling their money to put together an appropriate tribute.
If you would like to make a contribution or more information, visit Armstrong Regional Co-op Gas Bar.