Gary was one of those individuals whom we, in small towns, call "a character." He was a painter and a handy man by trade, but he had a creative streak and a flare for the dramatic.
I first became aware of him when he undertook to position a ladder in front of Creech Drug on Central Street, onto which he climbed to the top of that historic building in order to paint its framework, finials and facade.
His daring deed didn't actually stop traffic, but it slowed motorists down considerably as they circumvented his ladder and watched in amazement as he went about his work. He was very much aware of the stir he was causing. He delighted in being "front and center" for several days.
Spectators watched him as if he were the "daring young man on the flying trapeze." His job was challenging and the fete was dangerous. Nearby, on a hand-painted placard, he billed himself, "THE KENTUCKY GENTLEMAN."
Gary mowed my grass, raked my leaves, cleaned out my gutters, trimmed my hedges, steam-cleaned my sidewalk, painted my front porch, transplanted my magic lilies and built an over-hang to my basement door. When he wasn't helping me, he was doing odd jobs for others all over the county.
But, in spite of that, he always seemed to be "a day late and a dollar short." There were three things he desperately needed money for, other than utilities. He needed to keep up his child support payments and he needed money for cigarettes and gasoline.
When his dilapidated truck got to where even Gary couldn't fix it, he somehow managed to come by two vehicles, which he parked on the side of the road at Baxter where he lived. Unfortunately, those were crashed into, which left him without transportation. But, not for long. Gary straddled a bicycle and didn't skip a beat.
"Hail fellow well met," he was all over town waving at people, yelling greetings and always chuckling and smiling broadly. He was known for his straight, long, bottle-blonde hair, painter's overalls and invariably an unusual cap or hat of some kind on his head. I preferred his French barret.
Daily, Gary made himself useful over at Christ's Hands, where he ate his evening meal. He helped in any way possible in the dining hall or on the premises fixing, mending, lifting, moving, mopping and cleaning. He did it with a sweet spirit and a grateful heart. He had a giving nature.
Which brings to mind, a gift he made for me with his own creative hands, quite a few years ago. Gary cut out a wooden flamingo, painted it pink and mounted it on a steel rod.
The bird's head was attached to its body with a flat, metal spring which made the pink creation bob up and down. Gary brought it to me proudly and set it to bobbing in my front yard on Cumberland Avenue.
Just between you and me and the gate-post, I am not all that wild about pink flamingos of any kind. But, I wouldn't have refused to display it and hurt his feelings for anything in this world. So, there it stood.
The pink bird nodded up and down in my yard for days and weeks.
Then, as luck would have it, Hunter Davis was out walking on Cumberland Avenue with his aunt, Paula Saylor, and his grandmother, Burnell Saylor. He couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 years old back then.
Hunter spotted my pink flamingo and went wild over it. He wanted it. He wanted to take it home with him. He was told he couldn't have it, because it belonged to someone else.
When Paula told me Hunter "loved" my flamingo, I told her he could have it "as his very own." I instructed her that on his next stroll past my house, all he had to do was "take it." Explain to him it wasn't stealing; he had my permission and it was a gift.
My instructions were carried out. I was relieved and Hunter was delighted.
Later, however, Gary passed my house and noticed the flamingo was gone. He was worried someone had taken it, but I explained to him a little boy wanted it so badly I let him have it. "The Kentucky Gentleman" smiled understandingly, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Don't worry about it. I'll make you another one."
Gary's untimely death at the age of 54 shocked all of his large family and his many friends.
I was delighted to see so many people at his visitation and to see the enormous number of floral tributes which lined the shelves of the funeral home chapel.
Gary would be surprised he was deemed a local "character" and one who made such a lasting impression on so many. Bless his heart.
The row he hoed was a tough one. While constantly in and out of hot water, he "meant well."
"The Kentucky Gentleman" was something of a "tongue-in-cheek" Pecks Bad Boy, but so likable. Despite his ill luck, which seemed to stalk his path, he took life in stride and never quit trying.
He'll be missed at the Harlan Baptist Church on Sunday, at district court, at Christ's Hands, and frankly, already the city of Harlan is not quite the same without him.