TERRE HAUTE —
Some remember Charlie Fouty as the tough-talking, cigar-chomping guardian of taxpayer dollars during his tenure as the lone Republican on the Vigo County Council.
Others recall his accomplishments as a highly respected high school and college basketball referee who was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1980. He officiated at the IHSAA state finals and the NCAA Final Four.
He also became friends with Indiana University basketball icon Bob Knight.
Fouty, 83, died Wednesday.
Among those who knew Fouty was Don Nattkemper, attorney and former Vigo County Republican chairman.
“I first met Charlie in the early 1970s and have been in awe of the man ever since,” Nattkemper said. “The citizens of Vigo County have never been represented by a better elected official. Beyond his stern exterior was a heart of gold. His passing will leave a void in the lives of all whom he touched.”
Fouty served on the county council for 17 years before stepping down in 1995. He had been elected to a fifth term in 1994.
Brad Anderson, who was chosen by a caucus to fill Fouty’s county council seat in 1995, had lunch with Fouty regularly and frequently sought his advice. “We lost a great person who loved this county” and kept a close eye on how taxpayer dollars were spent, Anderson said.
When Anderson formerly was a Honey Creek Township assessor, he used to have to go before the county council — including Fouty — to explain his budget. “He denied things on my budget many times,” Anderson said.
Anderson said he’s tried to follow in Fouty’s footsteps in scrutinizing county spending.
“He was very blunt and told you what he thought,” Anderson said. There were times he and Fouty didn’t agree, “but he always respected my opinion.”
Attorney and federal magistrate Craig McKee described Fouty as a “transformative figure in my life.”
In the early 1980s, Fouty introduced McKee to Gene Brooks, who was the U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Indiana. Brooks hired McKee as a law clerk.
After two years, McKee came back to Terre Haute to practice law, but he credits Fouty as the person who “opened the door” in helping him develop a close association with the federal court system.
When McKee was appointed a federal magistrate in 2007, Fouty was one of the first people he called, and Fouty sat in a front row when he was sworn in.
Fouty was “one of a kind,” McKee said. He was a politician who didn’t do fundraising or traditional campaigning, but managed to get re-elected to the county council in his Republican district.
“As a public official he understood the budgeting process and how public finance worked as well as anyone,” McKee said. “His colleagues respected him because he never played political games.”
But Fouty did challenge public officials who were overspending “and he made them explain why they wanted to do things,” McKee said.
During county council meetings, Fouty would sit at a table by himself, his papers spread in front of him. Often, he had an unlit cigar in his mouth. “He called himself the minority leader,” McKee said.
McKee, a former sports reporter, also was familiar with Fouty’s accomplishments as a basketball player at State High and as a referee at both the high school and college level.
In 1946, Fouty, then a State High School senior, was selected to play for the Indiana All-Stars. He began officiating high school basketball in 1948.
At the college level, he officiated for both the Big Ten and Missouri Valley conferences.
According to a 1994 Tribune-Star article, Fouty was a referee for two IHSAA state finals, in 1964 and 1965, and five NCAA Final Fours, in 1968, 1969, 1975, 1976 and 1977.
Fouty made the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in part because “he achieved at the highest levels of officiating and was widely respected around the country as someone with the skills and the confidence to go into an intense situation and do a good job of officiating,” McKee said.
Duane Klueh, once a standout basketball player at Indiana State University who later served as the team’s coach, has been a long-time friend of Fouty’s.
They grew up in the same neighborhood north of ISU and they shared a love of basketball, Klueh said. “I had a great deal of respect for him and I admired the way he did things, which was always forthright and about as honest as a person could ever be,” he said. “He will be missed by lots of people.”
Fouty was “highly sought after” as a basketball referee, Klueh said.
While Fouty could talk tough, “He had a soft spot for people,” Klueh said.
Clyde Kersey, a Democratic state legislator, previously served with Fouty on the Vigo County Council. “He was just a great, great person and a great political leader,” Kersey said. “His philosophy was that after the election was over, we’re not Democrats or Republicans but county councilmen elected to do what was best for the county.”
Fouty was a “very fair person” who in putting together county budgets, tried to make sure employees received raises and departments received what they needed. But he also wanted to save taxpayer dollars as much as possible, Kersey said.
“If there was fat in our budget, he would make sure it was taken out,” Kersey said.
He recalls one time on the council when they had to make a difficult decision, and much pressure was being placed on them. Fouty told Kersey, “Do the right thing and good things will happen.”
Kersey said that’s a philosophy he has continued to follow. “He was a remarkable individual.”
Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or email@example.com.