(Editor’s note: Many Pacific Palisades residents know Laurel Busby from her frequent stories while working for the Palisadian-Post under editor Bill Bruns, and in recent years for the Palisades News and Circling the News. We join Laurel in mourning the loss of her father.)
Al, as his friends called him, was a soft-spoken, kind man who, like Mr. Rogers, could warm your heart during the briefest of interactions. Born on August 16, 1930, he grew up in Ellensburg, Washington, as one of five children, including two sets of twins. He and his twin brother, Gene, slept in bunk beds growing up, and he loved relating tidbits from their childhood.
He said Gene slept so soundly that once he fell out of his upper bunk, landed with a resounding crash on the floor, and kept right on sleeping. Al also recalled that in running races, Gene would speed past him on the uphill runs, while he would pull ahead on the downhill sprints.
Al witnessed the world change around him over his lifetime. His grandfather was a blacksmith who outlasted many in his town as the changing world made the profession obsolete. He grew up enjoying small town life, including attending weekly high school dances and picking apples to earn money. In school, he struggled with Latin, but loved learning about history.
After graduating from Ellensburg High, Al and Gene both earned bachelor’s degrees from Central Washington University, but then they took separate paths. Al left Washington, studying history at the University of Oregon before being drafted into the Army in 1954, where he served as a chaplain for two years.
Then, on Friday the 13th, 1957, Al narrowly missed dying in Death Valley. He and a friend were driving through the winding roads above the valley when Al drifted off to sleep in the passenger seat. Suddenly, his friend lost control of the car and later told Al that he was left with a horrible choice—either careen off a huge drop off to the left or a smaller one to the right. Al always wished his friend had picked a third option—to stay on the road.
Instead, the car went off the smaller drop off. Luckily both men lived, but the accident left Al with a battery of injuries, including a punctured lung and a leg so broken that it required a pin to replace part of his bone. He spent six months recovering at the West LA VA hospital.
Once back on his feet, he earned a master’s degree of divinity at Texas Christian University, graduating in 1959. He then became one of the ministers at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta, where he met Diana Brown, who he married in 1963. Two years later, the couple had their first child, Laurel, and then moved to Brown’s home state of Kentucky, where their second child, Alan, was born in 1968.
Upon returning to Atlanta, the couple shifted directions by opening an H. Salt Fish & Chips restaurant on Roswell Road in Sandy Springs. The restaurant, a popular spot during the early ‘70s, eventually became Busby’s Seafood Galley when the national H. Salt corporation closed. The couple divorced in 1974, but Al continued as a restauranteur, eventually adding two Huddle Houses to his coterie of restaurants before choosing to return to the ministry after about a decade in the restaurant business.
In 1976, Al married Diana Parks, who had two twin daughters, Jennifer and Karen, and they soon had another child together, Christopher. Al studied religion at Emory University to transition into Methodist ministry, and he eventually led several Methodist churches throughout Georgia, including churches in Lovejoy, East Point, Menlo, Mt. Washington, and Jonesboro.
Throughout his life, Busby treasured time with other people, particularly his five children. He spent the weekends playing sports, board games, pool, darts, and video games with them. He would often have multiple games going at the same time, so that everyone could enjoy their favorite games.
Church on Sundays, both when he was and wasn’t a minister, was a favorite time for him to connect with the community. He relished hearing from other church members and also taking time afterwards with his family.
In addition, he and his wife of 43 years enjoyed excursions to varied places in their retirement, ranging from the Grand Canyon to Greece. They visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Turkey, Paris, and London during their travels, and also made repeated trips to Hawaii.
During the final years of his life, Al moved from Atlanta to St. Simon’s Island, where his youngest son lived. While there, he worked out weekly at his son’s fitness studio, Live Oak Fitness, and spent time with his grandchildren.
People who had the good fortune to know him enjoyed his kind and warm spirit. He listened to everyone and always thought it was the job of humanity to care for one another. There was nothing better in life than sitting down to play a game with him or cook and eat a meal with him. He made everything a pleasure because he truly took pleasure in the company of others. That loving spirit shines through all of his five children, who were lucky enough to have had a father who so enjoyed their company, and it shines out of them onto every person they meet.
He is survived by his wife, Diana, his sister, Mary Brain, his children, Laurel (Eugene Thompson), Alan (Carolyn), Jennifer White, Karen O’dell (Jeff) , and Chris (Cassie), and his grandchildren, Kristen, Cassidy, Chloe, Terrin, Aidan, Liam, Gracie Jane, Lily and Chase.