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Charismatic

1/29/2004

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry could learn a thing or two about how to work a room from eight-time world champion Joe Beaver.

Last weekend at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Beaver shook hands, shared laughs and told jokes with his rodeo buddies and their families in the warm-up area behind the chutes.

Beaver, 38, (Huntsville, Texas) is arguably the most charismatic character in ProRodeo.

But what's Beaver like outside of the arena?

His friend and driver, George Willich, a.k.a. "Buckwheat," knows. They've been friends since their high school rodeo days, nearly two decades ago.

"Joe's a fun guy, really caring," said Buckwheat, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 305 pounds. "He's also a guy who likes things done right. Get it done and there's no problem. He likes to keep the horses clean, sound and stalls clean. He likes them fed early in the evening and saddled before a performance so they don't get sore. Whatever it takes."

And if that doesn't happen?

"You don't want to know," chuckles Buckwheat. "He can give you those looks which say plenty without him ever saying a word."

Buckwheat has driven Beaver all over the country, on and off, for about 10 years. In that time, there have been plenty of fun and crazy times.

"We were right here in Denver four or five years ago," Buckwheat recalls. "We were out and about — me and Tony Reina and Joe — at the Red Lion. It was snowing and we got to throwing Oreo cookies at each other. It got a little out of hand. We got all wet. We started pushing each other and rolling around, just like the Three Stooges."

Besides his amazing roping skills, Beaver's ability to connect with people, especially children, is phenomenal," his buddy said.

"You can't put much by him," Buckwheat said. "He's pretty intelligent. At these roping schools, he'll have 20 or 30 kids there and he'll line them up, ask them their names and visit with each one for a minute.

"He'll remember their names the rest of their lives. He can see them 10 years later and know the kid and remember his or her name. It's just unbelievable."

Buckwheat has also seen Beaver open his heart and wallet to a friend on more than one occasion.

"There's a lady in Huntsville and she took care of Brody [Joe's son] when he was a baby," Buckwheat said. "She didn't have much and she got sick, was in the hospital and they had to amputate her legs. Her family didn't have the money to put her in a nursing home, so Joe made sure she was taken care of. He put her up and took care of her.

"She died a little while back and they didn't have the money to bury her and he made sure she was taken care of."

Beaver's most prize possession, though, is his only son, 13-year-old Brody. They are inseparable despite being hundreds of miles away.

"Brody sets with the sun and moon," Buckwheat said. "Every morning, no matter where we are, Joe calls Brody at 7 a.m. on his way to school. At 3:15 p.m. faithful, he'll call and then they'll talk four or five more times before Brody goes to bed.

"They are more like best friends than father and son. It's the best father-son relationship I've ever seen. Brody is not your average kid; he's 13 going on 50. He's so smart, road smart. But he needs Joe and Joe needs him. It's a perfect match."