Every year, for about four decades, staff at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach would get a simple, yet thoughtful, gift from one of their peers.

Quite a few students got one, too.

A red pencil, unsharpened, embossed with the words “Fred Britton.”

Nobody who ever spent more than a second or two with the man needed anything to remember him by.

Britton left more than a little bit more of an impression than any gift ever could.

A good-looking, blond surfer boy, he fit in with the school’s beach vibe like no other and everybody that was ever in his presence remembers him more than a little fondly.

In the FC hallways, girls swooned, boys wanted to be like him … he was just one of those guys that was pure pleasure to be around

Genuine might as well been his middle name.

Britton died last week. He was 77 and a 47-year veteran of the Virginia Beach Public School System.

Rumors of the reason why are spreading faster than California wildfires. But why isn’t important right now.

What is, is the legacy the man left behind.

As a cub reporter in the late 70’s, he welcomed this guy in like he had known me forever.

A memorial to a high school coach and teacher might seem odd on a hunting and fishing website. But he and joined-at-the-hip friend and long-time FC teacher and coach Norbie Wilson fished often together. They caught more cold beers than fish, but they enjoyed the time together on the water more than anything, and isn’t that what fishing is supposed to be about anyway?

“He was so unique,” said former FC student and current principal Dr, Nancy Ferrell. “He and Norbie were iconic and touched so many lives.

“Not many high schools can say they had two coaches and teachers who stayed at one school and did so much for so many people.”

Sam Scarborough grew up at FC. His dad and long-time football coach Frank Webster went to Virginia Tech together. Lee Scarborough was an always presence on the sideline as head of the chain gang.

“I was running around the stands or doing something from the very first day,” said Sam, who played football at FC and is now the head football coach. “Been a part of the First Colonial family since my infancy and Fred was always a part of everything.

“This has been very hard for all of us.”

No more so than for Wilson. If you ever ran into one of them, it was a sure bet the other was in tow.

“We’re all devastated,” said Larry Bowman, who left Salem – where he won a state championship – to coach at FC and took the Patriots to the state tournament for the first time.

“I went there because of Fred and Norbie,” he said, the sadness obvious in his voice. “There is no question that they were two of the greatest people you would ever meet.

“Fred was so supportive of everybody at the school. When we went to the state tournament in Northern Virginia, I looked up in the stands and Fred was there with a First Colonial girls’s basketball T-shirt on. He had driven all the way up there by himself to show his support. That was special.”

Wilson, who is dealing well with his own health issues, has had the help of a large support group that understands that his loss is similar to someone losing a parent, a favorite pet or the love of their life.

The two were that close.

Wavy TV’s Chris Reckling paid a special tribute to the duo when they retired on the same day.

“I really don’t know what to say,” Wilson said. “A part of me is gone and I’ll never get it back again. He was a special person and I loved him more than anyone can imagine.

“I’m gonna miss him every day.”

FC student activities coordinator Holly Godfrey has been trying her best to keep things as normal as they possibly can be during what are stupid crazy times in and of themselves.

The passing of a Patriots’ family member and icon aren’t helping.

“We’re all in shock and trying to figure out how we can honor him during these difficult times,” she said. “He was the heart and soul of this school and not having him around anymore is going to be tough.

“But we are a strong family and we’ll get by and appreciate the fact that we had him in our lives.”

Kim McCanna was an FC grad and taught physical education with Britton, eventually becoming the swimming team’s coach.

“I was involved in gymnastics, field hockey and track back when they were just opening sports up to women,” she said. “He was alway so supportive of all the school’s sports programs, but especially the women who were just getting their first chances.

“Fred Britton was First Colonial.”

Britton had a quirky habit of giving fellow teachers nicknames – many of them not suitable for publication.

When Bowman arrived, Britton learned that the new guy on the team had a fondness of old record albums and started calling him “Wolfman Jack” after the famous radio personality.

“He wanted to be close to everybody,” Bowman said.

When Scarborough was a sophomore football player, he was put on the part of the team that the seniors and juniors abused during practice. He remembers an insanely hot August 16th in 1977 when he was especially brutalized.

“Fred came in and said that practice was cancelled,” Scarborough said. “Elvis was dead was the reason.

“Elvis died that day and Fred just wasn’t going to have practice. None of us understood then, but looking back, he was just one of those special people.”

Coach Webster hired Britton after he graduated from Frederick College, where he as a wide receiver,

One of the things he admired about his new assistant was the way he looked out for others, especially those who weren’t as fortunate in life.

“He’d buy shoes and meals for the kids who couldn’t afford it,” coach said. “We were all a family and he cared about the kids, the coaches and the other teachers. He shared qualities that you don’t see .

“He was a very special person and he’s going to be sorely missed.”

The family will be welcoming friends from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 10) at the H.D. Oliver Funeral Apartments in Virginia Beach.

20 Comments

  • Kim McCanna
    Posted September 8, 2020 1:38 pm 5Likes

    You nailed it Lee…thank you for doing what you do…for all of us. Stay safe

  • chris reckling
    Posted September 8, 2020 1:54 pm 16Likes

    In his 47 years teaching, coaching and mentoring at First Colonial, Fred had an impact on countless young people who walked those halls. We should all be so fortunate to make that type of impact in our own lives. Nice work Lee and sincere condolences to the Britton family.

  • Rick Romano
    Posted September 8, 2020 2:14 pm 3Likes

    He was my coach in football, he was my mentor (of sorts) who took me in as a bartender at the legendary Shack. A friend for life. I’ll miss him..

  • Chris Karvala
    Posted September 8, 2020 3:53 pm 1Likes

    He was like a dad to me! And to everyone he knew! I was lucky enough to go to first colonial high school and have Coach Britton, Coach Barto, Coach Webster and Coach Darden as role models to me. Would not be where I am today without ALL of them. I feel like I have lost a Parent!!! Nice piece Lee!!!

  • David Bunn
    Posted September 8, 2020 3:56 pm 0Likes

    Well said Lee! He was such a great guy he evened liked us Kellam boys! He will be missed by many.

  • Perry Baldwin
    Posted September 8, 2020 3:57 pm 0Likes

    How very appropriate…
    “Fred Britton was First Colonial”.

    Heaven has a new Angel in light blue and gold!

    May you rest in peace Coach Britton.

  • David Bunn
    Posted September 8, 2020 3:57 pm 0Likes

    Well said Lee! He was such a great guy he even liked us Kellam boys! He will be missed by many.

  • Robin Coulsting
    Posted September 8, 2020 5:22 pm 0Likes

    You will be greatly missed! Always a super good man to everyone around and always had encouragement and good things to say about everyone and everything ❤️

  • Rodney Johnson
    Posted September 8, 2020 6:47 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for the kind words for our Coach and friend he will be missed greatly…

  • Mark Butts
    Posted September 8, 2020 7:43 pm 0Likes

    I remember countless days after school working-out with him in the weight-room. My basketball office was next to his office, we would often have talks after school. He and Norbie came to all basketball games as well as all the other sports. An FC legend. He will be missed.WE ARE FC.

  • Mary Jo Lascara
    Posted September 8, 2020 8:07 pm 0Likes

    He was my neighbor for over 10 years . A happy go free , fun loving, open heart and a person who would never tell you NO if you asked for a favor . I already miss him and with a heavy heart every day I will honor Fred with a random act of kindness . Lead by example .
    RIP
    Mary Jo

  • CHeryl Peters Deans
    Posted September 8, 2020 8:49 pm 0Likes

    Coach Britton was my PE Teacher my sophomore year 1977. He always wanted peanut butter, banana, mayonnaise sandwiches . I made them for him cause he was so nice. That spring he asked me to be manager of men’s tennis team and help out. I met so many great guys and learned tennis! That August he asked me to get a friend and come help with football! Caroline and I enjoyed it so much… we truly learned how hard football was on guys. We followed them to ER etc. But coach Britton made sure they respected us and escorted us at away games. Loved all the coaches ! RIP Coach Britton…. see you on the other side! Truly an icon and truly missed!

  • Lee Belote
    Posted September 8, 2020 8:51 pm 0Likes

    Fred was a legacy. He was the friendliest person at FC. I met him as a freshman while participating in girls soccer. I’ve kept in touch with him over the years from meeting up at the grocery store. His gift was making you think you were his closest friend. I will miss his infectious smile!!!

  • Wendell Fifield
    Posted September 8, 2020 8:56 pm 0Likes

    Nice job Lee. They were First Colonial. I went there 79-83. My mom drove the athletic buses for football. My sister and brother and half a dozen nieces and nephews all were effected by Britt. Such a postive influence in our young lives and beyond RIP Coach and Thank You

  • Sam Scarborough
    Posted September 8, 2020 9:03 pm 2Likes

    Well done Lee!
    He made everyone feel special.. I truly think I speak for thousands when I say “I’m honored, privileged and grateful that he touched our lives.”

  • Bebe Cole
    Posted September 8, 2020 10:15 pm 0Likes

    Thank you for this. So well said. You brought him home with great dignity.

  • Norbie Wilson
    Posted September 9, 2020 10:43 am 8Likes

    You have always been so nice to both of us and your article anout my best friend was GREAT!

  • Clay Robinson
    Posted September 9, 2020 4:01 pm 0Likes

    Wonderful tributes to a wonderful human being. We are truly blessed to have him on this earth. Playing tennis for him was an honor even if coach Britton never hit tennis ball, 🙂 but he surely caught a great tan in his flip flops sitting in his Beach chair. It was like yesterday I can remember specific times with coach Britton. We will all miss him. But we all have great memories. Thank you Fred!

  • Elizabeth Scarborough Johnson
    Posted September 9, 2020 7:54 pm 0Likes

    Mr. Tolliver,

    For years you have been on the FC sidelines capturing the moments of the players. This article has truly captured the spirit and the love that Fred Britton oozed throughout his career as a teacher, coach, mentor and friend to all of those that passed through the halls of FC, the streets of the oceanfront and the boardwalk of Virginia Beach. May his family take comfort in knowing he positively impacted the lives of so many and WE are all the more fortunate!

    Elizabeth Scarborough Johnson

  • Larry Bowman
    Posted September 10, 2020 10:05 am 1Likes

    Well done Lee! You captured the spirit of one of the best guys I have ever known.It was a privilege to teach at FC with both Fred and Norbie.The best years of my teaching career. RIP my good friend.

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