A Blue-Ribbon, Blue-Collar Life

As reported in a February obituary, it took an old high school friend a few years to learn he liked working with his hands a lot more than wearing fancy suits.

The obit in The Baltimore Sun was headlined, “Coleman Tutt, a Master Plumber Who was Affectionately Known by His Clients as ‘King Tutt,’ Dies.” Coleman was 73 when he died, likely of a heart attack. He had lived in Maryland since the early 1970s, but I had known him at Far Rockaway H.S. in New York where he was a great running back, winning a football scholarship to North Carolina A&T. I also remember him, as I emailed a mutual friend this morning, as a person of calmness, sweetness, and friendliness, which the obit captured beautifully.

Coleman later took courses at Morgan State University in Baltimore and wound up working for General Electric Credit Corp., where according to his wife Marian, he received awards for his work but felt less-than-fulfilled.

“Coleman,” she said, “wore this three-piece suit with a vest, carried an attache case, had a sign on his desk with his name on it, but he just wasn’t happy. He liked working with his hands. So, he looked for a career in manual labor and chose plumbing.”

Skip to the early 1980s, and “C. Tutt Plumbing & Heating” came to be.

Rob Kasper, a former reporter and food critic for The Baltimore Sun, was a client who wrote in an email about how some of Coleman’s customers “referred to him as ‘King Tutt’ because for us he was Baltimore blue collar royalty. While most homeowners dread a visit from the plumber, I learned to look forward to Coleman Tutt’s visits. He knew a lot about plumbing and life.”

Kasper also noted how he “fixed the pipes in the homes of many staffers of The Sun whom he knew had scant funds and a scantier understanding of the mysteries of plumbing.” Suffice it to say how it was no mystery that a bunch of journalists (of whom I’ve been one) had “scant” money and knew even less about plumbing.

Under the banner of “Great Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree,” my American Experiment colleagues Katherine Kersten, Catrin Wigfall and I have been writing for several years now about the joys of working with one’s hands. I’ve described the practice as “The Art of Craft,” though if truth be told I stole the perfect term from the title of a PBS cooking program.

In that time, I’ve learned about people who have attended four-year schools but who came to understand, whether they graduated or not, they were meant for something else, something hands-on. King Tutt’s story, briefly told as it is here, is one of the blue-ribbon ones, and not just because he was an old high school friend.


Photo Source: The Baltimore Sun