V. Buddy Renfro, 61, singer, writer, sculptor, filmmaker

May 21, 1998|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

V. Buddy Renfro was a man of the mountains, and their rhythms and beauty infused his life's work as a singer-songwriter, sculptor and award-winning filmmaker.

Mr. Renfro, 61, a founder of the Hard Travelers folk music group, died of cancer Friday at his farm overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains near Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Born in Green Mountain, N.C., Mr. Renfro was the son of a gospel-singing father who performed on the radio and a pianist mother. He became interested in music and the arts as a child.

The family moved to Reisterstown during World War II and, in the early 1950s, Mr. Renfro became a regular performer on "The Collegians," a Saturday afternoon variety show on WMAR-TV featuring the singing and dancing talents of area youngsters.

"He taught himself the guitar and five Hank Williams tunes," said Mr. Renfro's sister, Eula Mae Marshall of Reisterstown.

A 1954 graduate of Franklin High School, he served in the Air Force and then studied radio and television production at the University of Maryland, earning a bachelor's degree in 1962.

Mr. Renfro worked at Norwood Studios, then the largest studio in Washington, producing documentary and training films. He became a producer and director.

In 1966, he joined the Department of Agriculture's motion picture division as a screenwriter, film producer and director, and became chief of the motion picture division. His work earned him more than 30 awards.

But as his job became increasingly administrative, Mr. Renfro resigned, establishing V. Buddy Renfro Productions Inc.

"He loved being in the field, and the man was something of an artistic genius," said Annapolis resident Lillian Wray, a friend for 40 years. "He was a fantastic photographer and could see something special in a sunset or the beauty of a blighted forest."

Mr. Renfro moved from Washington to West Virginia and, in 1980, settled at the 30-acre farm where he vigorously pursued his writing and work as a sculptor.

He transformed felled trees and stones found in the woods into works of art -- using tools he found in antique stores and yard sales rather than power tools.

"To shape a stone is to give it life, to impart fluidity and movement in something cold and lifeless," Mr. Renfro wrote. He had one-man shows in Aspen, Colo., and Annapolis, and displayed his work in juried shows in the East.

He also spent much of his life performing and writing music for the Hard Travelers, a folk group that he established in 1959 with Kenn Roberts while both were at the University of Maryland.

The group, which opened shows for such folk singers as Ian and Sylvia, played area clubs and, in 1962, cut its first 45-rpm record. Disbanded in 1967, the group staged a 1987 reunion concert at the Maryland Inn in Annapolis and has since performed about 40 concerts a year.

Through benefit concerts, the Hard Travelers raised about $2.5 million for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and Johns Hopkins Children's Center. Last year's show at the Baltimore Arena featured John Denver, who invited Mr. Renfro to perform with him on stage. Mr. Denver died three weeks later in a plane crash.

"Performing with John was a huge thing for Buddy," said Mr. Roberts, a vocalist and mandolin player. "He had a very strong presence on stage with his deep-bass voice. He was a real grass-roots American who sang and talked about what the common man could relate to."

A memorial Mass will be offered at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church, on Sacred Heart Lane in Glyndon.

He also is survived by his wife of 35 years; the former Barbara Inez Smith; his mother, Ruth H. Renfro of Columbia; a brother, Wayne Renfro of Eureka, Mont.; and two other sisters, Janet Gaines of Columbia and Doris Victor of Upperco.

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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