After over 30 years of devoted service, "Uncle Bud" couldn't leave behind the University of Florida and not contribute in some way. For the last few years he has been a staple at football practices taking the spot vacated by Coach Dick Jones and his passing. He was a gentle man that made sure visitors found their way at practices.
Having worked for the football staff for many years, I always knew him as Uncle Bud. He knew every player and every player knew him. He would jokingly kid with them if their hair was excessively long, or if they were in a cast for the first time. He just enjoyed being around the Gators and the Gator fans.
He always had kind words for me although our paths might not cross too much during a particular week. He was always one wanting to know how life was treating everyone and wanting the best for them.
I talked with Uncle Bud on Wednesday, the last practice he attended, and we discussed the basketball team and their accomplishments. At 86 years old he made it through the entire national championship game that ended somewhere around midnight and Monday and didn't miss a second of it. He was very proud of his Gators and remarked how much fun the team seemed to have.
Long time radio host and sports writer Larry Vettel saw him Wednesday thinking about his old buddy Coach Jones. Vettel thought it appropriate that would be the last image of Uncle Bud.
"The last time I saw Bud he was leaning against the plaque commemorating the memorial of Dick Jones," Vettel said. "Because Uncle Bud and Dick Jones were at every practice I have been to for so many years. Now they are able to share stories again."
According to Vettel, Co-Defensive Coordinator Charlie Strong was the first to start calling Bud "Uncle Bud." Strong has been a member of the Gator coaching staff on four different occasions. Bud Fernandez was a part of his work environment during each tour. It will certainly be different without Uncle Bid around.
"I was totally shocked when I heard the news (this morning) because yesterday (Thursday) we were downstairs and he was showing some people from the Red Cross around. The career he had at the University of Florida and what he gave and then to retire and still come back to work…."
Strong continued on with his and the players' relationships with Uncle Bud, "That's my boy. He was one of those guys that didn't talk much but you knew how he felt about you. I came here as a graduate assistant and the thing about him he was such a caring person. We would always tease each other. The relationship with all the players was a special relationship. This is just a sad day."
A 26-year military veteran, Fernandez was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as part of the 2000 class. His legacy is engraved everywhere in Gator athletics. In March 2002, the University of Florida South End Zone equipment room was dedicated in his honor. In 2003, Nike presented him with the prestigious Winged Goddess of Victory, which is given for loyalty, dedication and commitment to the swoosh. Since the inception of the award, only two individuals have achieved the honor for their work in the sport of football (Joe Paterno and Bud Fernandez).
The lives he has touched are countless. Uncle Bud was a special guy in what he thought was a special place.
The flowers and Diet Coke at the gate Friday were appropriate. The orange and blue flowers were especially appropriate because he is a "Bud" and he always had the managers bring him a Diet Coke to practice. Uncle Bud just couldn't shake the things he enjoyed. He will certainly be missed by many.