Leader and legend.
Those two words, more than any others, were uttered by town leaders as they spoke about the death Saturday of Vertielee Floyd two days after her 73rd birthday.
"We've lost a community leader, that's for sure," Payson Mayor Ray Schum said of the woman who single-handedly kept Payson's Old Time Fiddlers' Contest alive for 31 years. "We have too many people who sit around and do nothing except talk about what ought to be done and Vertielee was one of those who did something about everything she thought was necessary. She was a very positive member of the community. We loved her, and she'll be missed."
"We've lost a legend," said Erma Crose, wife of Rim country fiddler and contest staple Bob Crose. "She kept that event going for 20-some years after the Chamber of Commerce dropped it. She devoted her whole life, almost year-round, to getting that contest together every year. And she was a nice lady."
Floyd, who had one heart-valve surgery 17 years ago, underwent several others two months ago. "She started having complications," said her sister, Linda Reynolds, "and she was put back into the hospital at the end of February. She was there until her death. We did not expect this at all, and neither did her doctors.
"I've lost a mother," Reynolds said. "There were seven sisters and four brothers in our family, and Vertielee was the oldest ... We lost our mother when I was finishing high school... Vertielee was like a mother to me, and a grandmother to my children."
A driving force
Floyd had been the director of the fiddlers' contest since its inauguration in 1976, and in recent years, that's where most of her energies went. But her contributions to the community extended well beyond that effort.
A native Texan, Floyd moved to Payson by way of Phoenix with her late husband, J.W., and their sons in 1966. Soon after their arrival, the Floyds became owners of Aztec Butane and the Sunset Gas Station. Later they acquired land through a U.S. Forest Service exchange and built the KOA campgrounds.
She was a member of the Payson Chamber of Commerce board of directors when a group of local fiddlers organized the area's first contests on the back of a flatbed trailer.
She took the idea and ran with it all the way to the state capital. In 1974, the event was proclaimed by Gov. Jack Williams as the official Arizona Championship contest, and recorded in the Congressional record by Sen. Paul Fannin.
That same year: Floyd was named Payson's Woman of the Year.
Those who knew her, however, suppose that she was more proud of playing a key role in getting a dismantled Mesa church hauled north and, in 1985, reassembled as the Star Valley Southern Baptist Church of which she was a charter member and officer.
But it was the Old Time Fiddlers' Contest that kept Floyd going in her later years.
"I feel like the Lord gave each one of us something," Floyd said while preparing for last September's edition of the fiddle fest. "He did not give me music, but he did give me the organizational skills and the love of people you need to get things done in a project like this.
"Before this year's contest is over, I'll be making preparations for the sound system and many other things for next year's festival," Floyd said. "And as the year goes by, you've got to see that addresses are updated, to keep up with people in the field, make contacts, do PR work, see that things are mailed on time ..."
That kind of effort was typical Floyd as evidenced by these comments made Monday morning:
"Payson, and its business community, has lost a pioneer," said Ben Sandoval, who helped Vertielee mount the festival in its early years, and helped revive the event after the Payson Regional Chamber of Commerce withdrew its support in 1990.
"The town has lost a tremendous, historical asset," Sandoval's son, Payson Elementary School Principal Roy Sandoval said. The younger Sandoval will now take over as director of the fiddlers' contest. "Vertielee was committed to Payson. She loved Payson, and that's her legacy. And she was loved by so many people. She was a woman of high morals and high integrity, and just a wonderful person.
"I have no plans to change anything," Roy Sandoval said. "I just have the real desire to keep it going and keep it in Payson and continue Vertielee's legacy ..."
There might be one change, the elder Sandoval said.
"Just this morning Roy and I were talking about the possibility of renaming it 'The Vertielee Floyd Memorial Fiddle Contest.' I think that would be a really nice thing to do. And it should be done."
Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m., March 29, at the Star Valley Southern Baptist Church.