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Down Memory Lane: Al Buffett recalls a dramatic Grand Bank rescue


GRAND BANK, N.L. —

It was a late afternoon in April 1958. Nineteen-year-old Alister “Al” Buffett, his brother Tom, and a friend, Samuel Piercey, were at the Buffett Fisheries saltfish store in Grand Bank.

Piercey happened to be looking out the upstairs office window when he saw a splash on the other side of the harbour.

“There’s a child overboard,” he yelled.

Al reacted.

“I ran downstairs and out on the wharf, dropped my jacket and kicked off my shoes and dived in. When I came up I was halfways across the harbour.”

By this time the boy had disappeared below the surface. His buddies on the concrete wharf near the lighthouse were frantically shouting and pointing to where they had seen him go under.

Al took a deep breath and dove again to find Lloyd Williams lying on the bottom, 15 to 20 feet below the surface. He dragged the nine-year-old boy to the surface.

With help from Tom and George Snook, a worker from a nearby fish plant, they lifted the lifeless youngster onto the wharf.

Al then took charge again, performing artificial respiration for several minutes.

“When he started to cough we immediately put him in Tom’s car and rushed him to the hospital.”

Williams, now 70, lives in Mount Pearl. He says he’ll never forget that day.

When he left his house to go to school his mother warned him, “Don’t get your new sweater dirty and don’t go out on the wharf.”

However, he and his buddies headed out to the eastern breakwater to fish for tom cods and connors.

While there he borrowed a friend’s bike. As he was riding, the bike tires slipped on some fish offal on the concrete wharf and over he went, bike and all.

He remembers the water being “very cold and trying to grab whatever the boys were using to try to reach me.

“I can’t remember going underwater and I didn’t know who or how I was rescued until it was told to me in hospital.”

Al Buffett was commended in local press for his heroic deed that day. In December 1959, at a ceremony in Ottawa he was presented with the Silver Cross, Scout Canada’s highest award for bravery. He also received a Certificate of Merit from the Royal Humane Association of Canada. At the time of the rescue Buffett was the Assistant-Leader of the 1st Grand Bank Boy Scout Troop.

Several weeks after receiving the Silver Cross, Buffett received a letter from Williams’s mother, which he still holds as a cherished possession.

Dated Dec. 19, 1969, and written from Ward 0, room 6, Sanitorium, St. John’s, it read:

Dear Friend

Cannot thank you enough for what you did for us. As I was going through the paper I saw your snap. So I cut it out and put it in my Bible. So all I can say is you have my Best Wishes and Prayers.

Yours truly

Mrs. John Williams

Buffett went on to become one of Grand Bank’s best soccer players. At centre-half, he helped lead the GeeBees team to six Burin Peninsula championships and two provincial titles in 1960 and 1962. In the 1960 finals he was selected MVP of the series. In 1991 he was inducted into the Burin Peninsula Soccer Hall of Fame.

He spent his entire life working in his hometown with 46 years at his family’s business, G. & A. Buffett Ltd. and several years running his own business with his wife after Buffett Ltd. closed in 1991. He retired when he was 65.

He is also a devoted volunteer, currently the longest-serving member of the Grand Bank Lions Club with 59 years.

Recalling the past, the 80-year-old says, “I’ve got lots of good memories.

“The top two things I feel best about is being in the right place at the right time and saving Lloyd Williams’s life, as well as my involvement with Lionism.”
 

Allan Stoodley lives in Grand Bank, N.L. He can be reached at amstoodley@hotmail.com. And he welcomes comments on this or any other article he has written.

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