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Obituary for Ralph "Buddy" L. Fletcher

Ralph L. “Buddy” Fletcher

Lakeland - Ralph L. “Buddy” Fletcher passed away on July 25, 2017. He was born in Lakeland, August 20, 1932, to Mabel and Oscar Fletcher.

He graduated from Lakeland High School in 1951. The youngest of 6 children, Buddy was not a stranger to hard work. His father was a City of Lakeland employee and his mother, a homemaker. He attended Griffin and Webster Avenue Elementary Schools. Buddy started out his career in printing by taking Diversified Cooperative Training (DCT) at Lakeland High School and worked as a “printer’s devil” (apprentice) for Commercial Press.
After graduation, he married his high school sweetheart, Marguerite (Weetsie) Thorpe, and moved into a small apartment in Lakeland. Buddy continued his education at Florida Southern College as a part-time student.

They had 4 children; Ellen, Phil, Mark, and Brian.
Since 1976, Buddy, individually and with partners, expanded his business interests to include several retail businesses in Lakeland and real estate development. He was also involved in the development of a large number of commercial and residential properties: Lakeland South Center, Village West, Oak Plaza North, Plaza East, Town’ N Country, Heartland RV Resort and Mobile Home Park in Haines City, Falcon Square, and other projects.
After starting a family and working one full-time job, Buddy decided to take on another task by setting up a printing business in his garage. By 1962, the home printing business had grown sufficiently to demand his full attention. At the time he was selling, producing, collecting money, and delivering his work. Buddy found his gift in selling because he felt “it was a real accomplishment to win not only a customer, but a friend.” He always sold a relationship, not just a job.

He decided to buy a small building on South Florida Avenue and convert it into a four-room printing company. Buddy needed $1,250 for equipment for his business but the banks were not eager to loan him the money. It was the owner of a gas station, where Fletcher had worked part-time, who believed in him and signed that first bank note to get his business started.

Fletcher Printing Company was incorporated in 1963; a full-service printing company with seven locations in Lakeland, Winter Haven, and Bartow. He was innovative in being the first to put in satellite shops and drive-up windows.

In 1988, Buddy and Weetsie lost their youngest son, Brian, to cancer. Brian was successful in sales while he worked from the main office. In 1996, Mark, who was in management at the main office, also passed away from cancer. Since the printing company was family-owned and operated, those two losses caused Buddy to sell his main full-service plant, as well as three of the satellite operations.

Phil Fletcher, President of Phil Fletcher Printing Company, continued to run the satellite office in downtown Lakeland until 2008, when he passed away from cancer.

While Buddy and Weetsie’s sons ran the printing offices, Buddy decided to get involved in politics and was elected to the Lakeland City Commission in 1988. He served on the Commission until 1992. Being a “people person”, Buddy enjoyed developing relationships with the community. He was always eager to explore new ideas, and challenges, so in 1992 he decided to run for Mayor of Lakeland. He was successful at becoming Mayor and served until December 2009.

During his two terms as mayor, he played a leadership role in securing millions of dollars in federal and state grants to fund a number of key projects, including a $21.8 million Hope VI grant to revitalize the Northwest section of the city, the widening of County Line Road, a multi-purpose room at the Lakeland Civic Center, and the new Amtrak Station.
Under Mayor Fletcher’s leadership, the city continued to expand its beautification program that has been recognized as one of the finest of its kind in the country. The beautification program significantly improved the city’s lakes, roadways and entrances, in addition to providing the lake-to-lake connector routes, the new Lake Mirror Promenade, the multi-million dollar, privately-funded Hollis Gardens, and streetscaping in many historic neighborhoods. He was active in the I-4 Corridor high-tech program and played a leadership role in the development at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport, including the city purchase of the former Piper Aircraft building.

After retirement in 2009, Buddy continued to be active in commercial real estate, community service, and being involved in his church.

His Civic and Community Involvement; 1971-1973 – Board Member of Sheltered Workshop for the Handicapped, Charter Member – YMCA, Trustee and Past Chairman of the board – YMCA; 1982 Campaign Chairman – United Way of Greater Lakeland: 1983 President – United Way of Greater Lakeland; 1986 - Small Business Award, Fletcher Printing Company: 1987 Charter Campaign Chairman - Leadership Giving-United Way; 1988 United Way Volunteer of the Year Award, Board Member- Chamber of Commerce, Sunny Award- Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce; 1984-1988 Board Member- Lakeland Regional Medical Center; 1986-1987 Past Chairman - Lakeland Regional Medical Center, Board Member- Lakeland Regional Health Systems- serving as Chairman, 1987-1988, Chairman - Florida Baptist Ministries; 1991 Florida Baptist Ministries Outstanding Service as initial Division Co-Chair for “The Lakeland Area Giving Hope” Campaign Award, Leadership Lakeland, Charter Board Member - Volunteers in Service to the Elderly (VISTE), Citizens Policy Academy, Lakeland Economic Development Council, Deacon and Trustee - First Baptist Church at the Mall, Lakeland Rotary Club, Success by Six, Board Member - Lakeland Volunteers in Medicine (LVIM), Salvation Army - Media/Community Leader Award, Paint Your Heart Out Lakeland; 2002 Jere Annis Leadership Award; 2010 George Jenkins Award.

He was preceded in death by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Fletcher; 3 sisters, Frances, Hilda, and Ruth; 2 brothers, Cecil and J.D; sons, Phil, Mark, and Brian Fletcher. He is survived by his wife, Weetsie, and one daughter, Ellen Huey (Bill); 2 grandchildren, Jason and Shyla; and 2 great-grandchildren, Alani and Abby; niece, Mary Catherine (Pat) Harris.

Services will be held on Tuesday, August 1, 2017, at 11 am with a visitation one hour prior at First Baptist Church at the Mall, 1010 E. Memorial Blvd., Lakeland, FL 33801. Interment will take place at Oak Hill Burial Park, 4620 US Highway 98 South, Lakeland, FL 33812.

In lieu of flowers donations can be sent to First Baptist Church at the Mall, 1010 E. Memorial Blvd., Lakeland, FL 33801 or SPCA Florida, 5850 Brannen Road South, Lakeland, FL 33813


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Previous Events

Visitation

Tuesday

1

Aug

10:00 AM
First Baptist Church at the Mall

1010 E. Memorial Blvd
Lakeland, Florida 33801

Service

Tuesday

1

Aug

11:00 AM
First Baptist Church at the Mall

1010 E. Memorial Blvd
Lakeland, Florida 33801

Cemetery Details

Location

Oak Hill Burial Park

4620 US Highway 98 South,
Lakeland, FL 33812

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