Roy Exum: Virgil Garner - The Best

Thursday, July 10, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

For the past 32 years Virgil Garner has done the same thing every day. All day long he has taken a towel and dried off more cars than you can count at Grant's Car Wash on Ringgold Road. He has done it so very well, and with such a genuine respect for each and every customer, that he has turned what some may consider a trivial job into a true ambassadorship  that I long ago realized would rival any consulate in the world.

I never saw him take his East Ridge Car Wash hat off so my eye missed his bald head in his obituary announcement Monday but when I asked about his absence at the car wash yesterday, I was told my dear friend had died after suffering a heart attack on Friday afternoon. The first thing that flew through my mind was that he never failed to be the best he could possibly be and what greater tribute can befall any man at a given task.

I'll go for the rest of my life believing Virgil was the best car washer in the world. More importantly, he was the premier marketing expert, the one who was on "the front line" who made every customer feel just as special as though Mrs. Grant or Chuck or Jake were thanking them for making Grant Brothers Car Wash and Oil Change perhaps the best company of any size in the Chattanooga area.

I wouldn't want to offend anyone else but -- it's true -- no other car wash comes anywhere close. Virgil Garner was a big reason that I have driven out of my way for years to have vehicles washed and cleaned at the highly-acclaimed and award-winning shop. Virgil loved my jokes and I delighted in his laughter. But to watch him "bug" with customers of all sizes, ages and creeds, his compliments forthright and his smile always consistent, was to watch Di Vinci paint, Pavarotti sing or Hemingway write. He was the best I have ever seen at what he did. And that's all that matters.

We talked all the time about cars, trout fishing and things that made us laugh, not always in that order. Once he took me to the employee refrigerator to show me a rare yet gorgeous golden trout he'd bagged up at Tellico. Another time he took some magical concoction and removed dried paint from the wheel well after a can had accidentally tumbled from a truck ahead.

Grant's Car Wash is unique because there are five-gallon buckets outside for tips. Once you get your car washed several times it's easy to see why there is always a pile of loot to be split evenly with every employee at closing time. Mind you, every employee takes pride in the product and Virgil, the manager, was the best kind of leader -- his art came by example.

"When my (late) husband Jim bought the car wash, Virgil came by almost immediately and Jim hired him on the spot. I was the cashier back in those days," Mrs. Grant remembered, "and Virgil was like a member of our family. If a car didn't look perfect, he would usually drive it himself back through. He was an invaluable employee for over 30 years."

Chuck Grant, who now operates the car wash while his brother Jim is over the Fast Lube Oil Change, spoke at Virgil's funeral and delighted the crowd at the Chattanooga Funeral Home. "Once we went fishing together up at Tellico and Virgil left two hours before I did. I thought I would never find him once I got there but I should have known better -- he was in the middle of the stream wearing his East Ridge Car wash jacket and hat! Of course I immediately saw him."

Chuck said Virgil was famous, too. "He not only knew everybody, he knew all about them. He had a great gift of endearing himself to people. He really did. He was a great family person, too. His daughter just graduated with high honors at UT-Knoxville to become the first member of his family to get a college degree. His son is doing great at UTC, too. He adored his family."

He also loved his job. "I can't tell you how many people have said nice things about him or who have wondered where he was in the last few days. He had a great number of customers who considered him a friend instead of employee. He would step out of his way to help anybody and, oh boy, our family knows how blessed we were to have him.

"After he had his heart attack late Friday afternoon, I was at the hospital later and he seemed to be doing fine. We talked about 30 minutes and he didn't remember what actually happened. He wasn't worried about it, telling me instead he had eaten a good dinner and felt like he could go back to work. Later that night he had heart failure but never suffered at all," Chuck said, his eyes finally beginning to mist.

"Somebody at the funeral told me Virgil would be hard to replace and I told them, no it wouldn't. We all know that is an impossibility. We'll get somebody good alright but Virgil Garner will never be forgotten for what he meant to each of us."

That is what made a guy who washed cars as good as the best artists this world has ever known. He was the best at what he did. And that's what matters.

royexum@aol.com



Rep. Holt: Republicans And Democrats Join Forces To Outlaw Traffic Cameras

Newly elected Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis) and I would seem like total polar opposites politically. He's from the big city of Memphis; I'm from a small town in rural Tennessee; He's a Democrat, I'm a Republican; He's black, I'm white; He's in the Senate, I'm in the House. Unfortunately, many would draw a seemingly logical conclusion that we don't like each other-- that we would ... (click for more)

It Matters Who Leads

When I was elected to the Tennessee General Assembly in 2008 a constant and repeated refrain from Republican Leadership was; “it matters who leads.” In particular it was Senator Ron Ramsey who would often say “it matters who leads” as part of his stump speech as he traveled the state getting Republicans elected. Tennesseans believed him, and rewarded Republicans with not only majorities ... (click for more)

FCC Votes 3-2 To Approve EPB's Request To Expand Its Broadband Offerings

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Thursday to allow EPB to expand its broadband offerings to neighboring communities. Chairman Tom Wheeler and two other Democrats were in favor, while the two Republican members said the agency was acting illegally in overriding state law. EPB's phone, Internet and TV offerings have been far more successful than expected and ... (click for more)

Hamilton County Schools, UTC To Close Friday; Other Closings Announced

Due to remaining snow on some of the roadways and the potential for black ice overnight and into the morning, Hamilton County Schools will be closed on  Friday . School Age Child Care will also be closed. Employees who accrue vacation will report by  10 a.m.  and maintenance employees will report on regular schedule.  All classes are being ... (click for more)

Baylor Girls Lose In State Basketball Semifinals, 69-61

NASHVILLE -- The third time wasn't the charm for the Baylor Lady Red Raiders. Facing the Brentwood Academy Lady Eagles in the semifinals of the D-II Class AA girls state basketball tournament at Lipscomb University, Baylor came up short for the third time this season against the Lady Eagles by a 69-61 final score. It was a see-saw affair with seven ties and 13 lead changes, ... (click for more)

Region 3-AAA To Play Friday With Earlier Start Times

The Region 3-AAA basketball tournament, despite schools being closed, will resume on Friday at Ooltewah High School with four semifinal games on the schedule. While the matchups remain the same, start time for the games have been moved up to 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., Ooltewah athletic director Jesse Nayadley said. While schools will be closed on Friday, Nayadley ... (click for more)