When Malcolm Patterson was Walton County's Tourist Development Council's executive director, he worked a lot of trade shows.
One of those trade shows was in Oklahoma City.
Patterson remembers setting up his booth next to a big, rugged, older man who was there to promote a fishing lodge in Canada's Northwest Territory.
When the show started and people began arriving, Patterson got up and started doing his thing promoting South Walton's beautiful beaches, but the guy next to him just sat there and never got up.
The second day of the show, the same thing happened.
By the end of that second day, Patterson finally went over and introduced himself.
"I told him 'I have been working my tail off and you haven't spoken to a person,' " said Patterson and chuckled as he related the man's answer. "He said he had not seen anyone he wanted to spend a week with."
Patterson was amused by his response and asked the man what he was doing for dinner and if he would like to join him and his assistant, Julie Root.
"I took him out to dinner and we became fast friends," said Patterson. "Lew was a man of few words, but all of his words were interesting."
Lew Merchant had worked as a truck dispatcher and got to know the owners of a fishing lodge in the Northwest Territory. The owners asked him if he would like to work as a guide at their lodge and he did.
"By the end of the trade show, I told him I might be interested in going up there," remembers Patterson. "He showed me pictures that were stunning. So, I told him I was going to come."
It was the first of August 25 years ago when Patterson made his first trip up to the lodge. He returned every year until the last couple of years when Lew was not able to be there.
Getting there isn't easy and takes two days, flying into Calgary then to Yellowknife, then on to the lodge on a float plane and landing on the lake.
Patterson described the place he discovered, thanks to Lew, as magical.
"You drink water right out of the lake. It is pristine. On one of my trips, I asked Lew to tell me one thing that has changed there in 30 years. He said 'nothing.' Where in the world can you go to and nothing has changed? There are moose, bears in the lodge area, bald eagles, it's nature like was created by our creator and no one has messed it up," Patterson describes enthusiastically. "It's catch and release, but you are fed a shore lunch at the lodge."
Patterson took his grandson to this magical place when he was around 12. His grandson told him he was going to go to work and buy the lodge.
"Everyone up there tells a Lew story," said Patterson. "That's how we spend our evenings -- family style."
Patterson and Lew remained good friends.
"He was the most amazing guy, like Jack London would write about. What he knew about how to catch fish, and how to find the fish was astounding," he said with admiration.
Lew finally had to stop making the trip because of his age and Patterson flew to Salt Lake City to visit him before he died last year.
"He touched everyone he came in contact with," said Patterson. "Once you met him you realized he was special."
Patterson is making his farewell trip back to the Northwest Territory in August.
"I didn't go last year," he said. "It's not the same for me with him not there."
He is making the journey one last time to keep a promise he made to his friend, Lew.
"There was one spot where we caught the most beautiful fish and there was a bucket on top of the fence. Lew said to me one day, 'When I'm gone, promise me you'll come back and get that bucket and kick it for me.' I promised him I would. I am going back to see this place one more time before it's my time -- just Linda and me, no one else," Patterson said nostalgically.
He has promised his wife they won't fish the whole time, but also walk the area and see the waterfalls and eagles' nests.
"It's a trip for us and a farewell trip to a place that is magical. We're looking forward to it. We're going places she has never been and it's my farewell to a place that is almost sacred it's so beautiful -- a place that is near and dear to my heart -- similar to the way Grayton Beach was when I walked it as a little boy. It renews your soul and goes to the core of your being," he said.
Patterson was the first executive director of Walton County's TDC and his family was one of the first to settle at Grayton Beach.