by Henry Lane Hull
On the edge of the farmland at the corner of Good Luck Road and Jessie Ball duPont Highway stood a massive loblolly pine, one of the largest I ever have seen. About 30 years ago it died, probably of old age. The land was owned by Dee and Dale Hudnall, two great lovers of nature. They had the tree timbered and milled and then, as a keepsake, had a small trunk made from some of the boards.
When their son, Bud, saw the piece, he complimented the overall workmanship, but told his mother that the hinge should have been concealed, rather than revealed. Her telling me the story of the trunk was the first I had heard of Bud’s interest, then already long-standing, in woodworking.
Bud was a multi-gifted person, who knew much about many things. When he died last week, his obituaries focused on a number of them, but since that conversation with his mother three decades ago, and what I have witnessed thereafter, I have thought of him as one of the finest craftsmen I have known.
After Bud and his wife, Gayle, moved back to the Northern Neck from Florida over 40 years ago, when they purchased Noblett Inc. in Kilmarnock, they have been a steadfast part of life here in our midst. After the passing of Bud’s parents, he and Gayle moved into the family’s ancestral home, “Clifton”, the oldest structure in Kilmarnock.
There they have continued the preservation and conservation of the home, and in the outbuilding behind the main house Bud pursued his passion for woodworking. That building had been the last structure built by the late Dan Whittaker, one of the Northern Neck’s finest craftsmen, shortly before his death in 1975.
At “Clifton” the floor in the hall on the second story had sagged. Bud set out to repair it by himself. He pulled the joists up to level, braced them and re-installed the 200-year-old floorboards to such a degree of precision that his work is not noticeable.
All the while Bud was pursuing his woodworking interests, he and Gayle also were engaged in running Noblett Inc., serving on a wide variety of local boards, and being available to welcome those interested in historic preservation to visit their great on-going project of preserving “Clifton.” Their research showed them that the mansion had a long-gone wing on the town-side that had matched the one on the farm-side. They rebuilt it, thereby reproducing the classical symmetry of the house.
On the grounds of “Clifton” Bud established an English boxwood nursery where he propagated hundreds of new plants, all in keeping with the historic character of the property. He and Gayle continually enhanced the aura of the setting, reaffirming its significance in Virginia history.
In the last years of his life, after his retirement from the management of Noblett Inc., Bud’s particular focus in woodworking was the making of exquisite wooden bowls which he fabricated, often from local woods, on his lathe. He would glue the woods together prior to turning them on the lathe, thus producing geometric designs in the final products. Many of them he donated to assist in raising funds for local charities and projects, and many more he gave to his friends.
Had he chosen to spend his life in the realm of construction or that of woodworking, the lines of folks wanting his products would have stretched far and wide. His style and splendid craftsmanship were recognizable in any setting where the finest quality was appreciated. When individuals gasped at the beauty of his products, he modestly would thank them and move on to the next subject.
Bud was a good and kind man, who always did his best for his community, thinking of others, their welfare and livelihood, and being grateful for the opportunities he had to serve. He asked nothing for himself other than how to help others.
Eugene S. “Bud” Hudnall Jr., February 8, 1939 – March 13, 2020. R.I.P.