My friend, colleague, and brother as far as I was concerned, has passed away suddenly at the age of 67. Garry Mac and I were competitors, co-workers, co-conspirators, and quite possibly the biggest fans each other ever had. We could truly finish each other’s sentences, and often did.
As soon as I saw the name on the Caller ID Tuesday night, I knew what I was about to hear. “This can’t be good,” I told my wife. The last time I got a late-night call from Dr. Dan Bowden, a Chattanooga-based emergency physician, it was August of 2020, when he informed me that his cousin Garry, my lifelong radio friend had had a serious, life-threatening heart attack, his second one. Garry had a rough recovery, but bounced back a few months later, as he always did.
Since then, Garry moved to Florida, but still visited Chattanooga for a few days now and then to check on his now-deceased mother Betty, and to tackle a few freelance public relations projects, like the recently-approved free standing Parkridge Emergency Room, soon to open in Soddy-Daisy. Garry provided the advice and guidance on maneuvering through the governmental red tape, and helped unite the community toward a much needed common goal.
Garry and I had lunch last Wednesday at Zarzours Cafe, and continued our long standing tradition of gobbling up a meat and 3, and peach pie with ice cream, then spending the next hour telling jokes, spreading gossip, and analyzing politics.
We were always right, and after satisfactorily solving the world’s problems, we would hug in the parking lot, discuss his route home to the beach he loved, and remind each other that our friendship was a blessing. I think somewhere in my head, I would always think that due to his health issues, this could be the last time, but only briefly. Garry was always full of life, and his mom was a force of nature who lived well into her 90s.
Sadly, my gut feeling was right when I answered the phone Tuesday night, and Dr. Dan started to speak. “We’ve lost Garry,” he said. He explained that Garry had not responded to some phone calls and texts for a day or so, and that’s not like Garry. Family members had asked some contacts in Florida to check on him, and they soon received the sad news. Our world will never be the same.
I owe so much to Garry, and I reminded him often. When I was the morning DJ at WGOW (and later at KZ-106) Garry was hired as news director, so we saw each other every morning. Soon, he would hire a Pennsylvania girl named Cindy Hain, and when he introduced us, he recruited her to cheer for our softball team.
Later, when Garry teamed up with Dale Deason to host their incredible “Those Guys in the Morning” show on the AM station two doors down the hall from my FM show, they would nudge Cindy to hang out with me, which led to a date, which led to….well the past forty years. Garry and Dale made for a very effective, entertaining team in so many ways.
Garry’s career path took him in and out of radio for the past fifty years. Just last week, we reminisced about his early days at WEDG radio in Soddy-Daisy, where the Red Bank High student would spend his summer days and nights living in the station owner’s houseboat, waking up each morning to sign the station on the air.
Except for those mornings when he overslept, which led to another prized tradition. You see, we had Eastern time, Central time, and Garry Mac time. From my KZ control room window, I would barely be in my chair at 6 a.m., waving across the windows to Dale Deason in the WGOW room, confidently knowing that at approximately 6:05-ish, about the time the newsperson was handing off the show to the deejays, Garry’s car would enter the long driveway at a blazing speed, providing just enough time for his to hit the brakes, slam the door, and sprint into the building, almost like nothing happened. And our day could officially begin.
Garry’s full-time radio career pretty much ended in the late 1980s, when he joined Congresswoman Marilyn Lloyd’s staff, masterfully handling her communications. Marilyn was not a natural public speaker, and Garry knew how to make her feel comfortable, and loosen up a bit. She faced a few serious election challenges in those days, but Garry always helped put her over the top. She never lost an election.
There was one time when Garry failed to tell his boss about one important detail. Marilyn had been invited to speak at a Veteran’s Day event in Marion County, and I was the emcee. It was a cold day, and luckily one of the organizers had told me it was an outside event, and we (the speakers) would be seated on a truck bed. I still have the picture of us seated at the event, me in an overcoat and gloves, and poor Marilyn, somewhat under-dressed. She had not been informed it was to be outdoors. That look she gave Garry! We would laugh about that story too.
He left that position to give TV news a whirl, anchoring at Channel 12 for a couple of years in the mid-1990s. He worked with Rebecca Williams, David Neal, Linda Edwards and Kevin Billingsley, and amassed a pretty good war chest of stories about life in TV news.
He dabbled a bit more in radio, and was a frequent fill-in on Talk Radio. He could be called upon on a minute’s notice, and fill a few hours without any show prep. He was a natural communicator. He kept up with the news, he was quick on his feet, and he loved people. Put him on the radio with any combination of Kevin West, Jim Reynolds, or whoever, and you would have the best radio show in town without even trying hard.
During the past twenty years, he really found his footing in health care marketing, primarily at Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, and Hospice of Chattanooga. He did some memorable commercials for both organizations, and led their successful marketing teams to new heights.
More recently, he did freelance marketing efforts primarily in the Chattanooga area and in Florida, but his work also took him all over the nation. When you’re good, you’re good, and word travels fast. He built up quite the clientele, and he always delivered. Garry was well-read, and common sense smart. He knew what the public liked, and he knew how to speak to them. He LISTENED.
On a personal level, I have lost a friend and brother who is irreplaceable. My wife loved him. My sons adored him. He made us all laugh.
In the early 1990s, he and I were among a group of old radio guys who began gathering for lunch occasionally. We called ourselves the VRW (Veterans of Radio Wars). Our little group of 4 to 6 people gradually grew to 12, to 25, to 50, 60 or more. Until the pandemic, we met regularly each December. Lately, we’ve been more cautious in our gatherings, but whenever we resume, it will not be the same. Garry was the straw who stirred the drink.
In the last few years, I have branched out into a few “side gigs” and Garry’s fingerprints are on every one of them. When I started writing books, Garry is the one who got me started going out to churches and clubs, doing programs and book signings. He’s the one who organized my first event, a book signing for “Chattanooga Radio and Television” at Northgate Mall, a fundraiser for Hospice of Chattanooga with Luther Masingill and “Miss Marcia” Kling. It led to a few hundred more, ongoing as recently as yesterday.
When I began pitching ideas for a weekend radio show, those lunches with Garry helped narrow it down to what it would become: a 7-year, 350 show success with a plan, an idea, a format, and a theme. It is sadly fitting that the show will end soon. He was a regular listener, and provided some great guidance and ideas, every step of the way. He was among the first advertisers for a little show that had more than a little trouble getting off the ground. I truly couldn’t have done it without him.
When I started writing blogs and newspaper columns, if there was one of which I was concerned about, or particularly proud of, I would always run it by Garry first. He was my unofficial, unpaid editor, advisor, and fixer. Every one of his suggestions and corrections was on point.
He was a terrific public speaker. On more than one occasion, if I had to suddenly bow out of an event for work or illness, I knew I could count on Garry to cover for me, and I would do the same for him. Most recently, I was supposed to emcee a debate between two Tennessee US Senate candidates, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, and then US Rep. Marsha Blackburn. Just a day before, when I learned I would be unable to do it, I called Garry, who was ready and willing. (It would turn into a Bredesen-only event when Blackburn declined to attend). Garry did a great job, as he always did.
He loved radio, and he and I were among the first board members on the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame. He believed in giving our local Chattanooga area broadcasters their due on a statewide level, and we had many fun trips to and from the annual induction ceremonies. If you wanted to attend a party, just ride somewhere with Garry. A party would soon begin.
Just last month, Garry was near his home in New Smyrna Beach, Florida enjoying one of his favorite activities, a rocket launch. He thought he heard a familiar voice, and realized it was another longtime radio buddy, Bob Boyer, with whom he had worked at WGOW and WDXB. Bob and his wife Pat enjoyed their surprise encounter with a Chattanooga pal.
More glorious stories will emerge in the days and weeks to come. Garry’s beloved family, spread far and worldwide, will soon begin planning a celebration of a life like no other. Until then, those of us who loved him can take comfort in the memory of a one-of-a-kind, life changing friend. There was only one Garry Mac.
And on this cloudy morning, an awful lot of people are feeling just like me. They too, have lost a best friend and a brother. That’s one big family, and Garry loved sitting with us all at the big table. The loud, laughing table.
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What David Carroll said, it was an incredible tribute.
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Everyone has a Garry Mac story. Here is mine.
Years ago when Garry was working with Clark Taylor at CHI Memorial, Garry cornered me after a local Chamber meeting. He told me Memorial Hospital wanted to build a healthcare facility in Ooltewah. When Garry told me that, Ooltewah was little more than a wide spot in the road with a new red light. I wondered at his information. It was Clark Taylor's vision and Garry's enthusiasm that would be the cornerstone for the facility.
Garry asked me if I would go to Nashville for the Certificate of Need hearing. He said Erlanger was opposing the project. I told him sure and a few days later myself and about 20 other Ooltewah business owners and residents got on a charter bus with Garry and Clark and went to Nashville in support of CHI Memorial.
As the bus pulled into the State Capital complex, Garry sat next to me and spoke quietly in my ear saying, "They're going to ask for comments and I want you to speak for the group." And then he added, "And I want you to be funny."
Sure enough my name was called and I walked to the podium to address the 20-something committee that would decide Memorial's fate in Ooltewah.
I gave the group my name, I told them what I did and told them where Ooltewah was located. I added that Ooltewah was actually an old Native American name for the area. One of the committee members asked, "What does Ooltewah mean?" I looked him in the eye and said, "It means See Rock City."
I looked to my right where Garry and Clark were sitting and there was Garry with both hands covering his face. The room thankfully erupted in laughter and there was Garry looking at me shaking his head. After the meeting as we walked out of the large hearing room, Garry said, "I didn't mean THAT funny." The Memorial proposal passed.
Not many years later the CHI Memorial facility was built on property the hospital purchased from the Brooks family on Mountain View Road. It is where my family goes for our family medical needs. Now every time I go through those heavy glass doors, I'll think of Garry Mac and know that without him, the facility probably wouldn't have been built.
Garry, you will always be missed.