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LEAVING HIS MARK

April 5, 2018

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Gary Clardy and his wife Hollye have been talking about their retirement plans for the past four years.

They have trips to plan, places to go and people to see.

One trip would take them across the provinces of Canada and then up into Alaska. Another trip, which Gary has planned for August, is a 10-day venture out west to a “working cattle ranch” with his son Jesse.

Gary and Hollye, who have been married for 30 years, also have six young grandchildren they love having around their rural Tennessee home.

But until now, Gary never felt it was the right time to walk away from his job as the Assistant Superintendent for Engineering and Construction at Rutherford County Schools.

“I thought actually I kind of wanted to retire at 62,” said Gary, who recently turned 66, “and so I’ve been kind of thinking about that and things just kept getting pushed off because of my work and projects would come up.”

That will change July 1.

After 14 years with the school district, he is finally retiring.

Sort of.

Hollye, who is a registered nurse, is working through the end of 2018 and Gary is looking at signing a short-term contract to assist the engineering and construction department with a few small projects that he wasn’t able to focus on.

“Work dictates when we’re together,” Gary said, “and when we can do things, it’s just time to enjoy life.” 

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Gary Wayne Clardy was born in 1952.

He was the fifth of nine children born to James Clardy Sr. and Ester Clardy.

The elder Clardy fought in World War II and “had his own demons,” which he overcame in his later years.

James, who was fortunate to have graduated from high school, worked in a textile mill and also repaired sewing machines.

Gary and his siblings were raised in Anderson, Tennessee, and later moved to Decherd.

His father was “the smartest man (he) knew,” but, make no mistake, as the youngest of three boys, Gary’s sisters reminded him that he was a mama’s boy.

“I get a little bit of a bum rap,” Gary recalled. “They pick on me about this. … I was mom’s favorite and actually I was her baby boy.”

He later added, “She loved everyone … but I probably needed a lot more than most of them because of my disposition.”

As a young boy, Gary had a paper route to help earn money, and later, he bagged groceries.

“We knew we were poor,” said Gary. “I knew when my mom and dad didn’t have money — also knew when they did.”

As a teenager, Gary was baptized at the Church of Christ, but he “never took it serious.” Instead, he picked up the guitar and all the trappings associated with it.

The more he played music around the southeast, the more involved Gary became with drugs and alcohol. Looking back, Gary said he realized he never mentally and emotionally matured until he reached his 30s.

“When I hit 30, I thought it was time to do something about it,” Gary recalled, “so actually, I guess at that point you could say that I got serious about (my) spirituality — not religion, but spiritual — and developed my own faith and quit depending on other people’s faith.”

At the time, his father had cancer.

Christmas was approaching.

Gary promised his family he would go to rehab after the holidays.

Two days before Christmas, he sat with his father.

“I let him know that I was going to a treatment center before he died, which I was really glad,” said Gary.

“I use that as my sober date now.”

His two older brothers, Chuck and James Jr., “carried” him to a treatment center a couple of days after Christmas.

Gary finally got himself straightened out and enrolled in school at Tennessee Tech University, where he earned a civil engineering degree in 1988. By the time he graduated, in August, he and Hollye had already married back in March.

She had two daughters, Laura Reid and Emily Bouldin, from a previous marriage, but now sober, Gary raised and loved them both as if they were his own.

His father had passed from a heart attack.

His mother was 88.

“I’m very proud of myself,” said Gary, who made certain to add, “Pride comes before the fall and I’ve got the alcohol … and drug addiction in my background, so I’m very careful to not take any credit.

“I give all the credit to the Lord because I can’t afford to get arrogant about my situation now because I think about how it was before and how I am now. I would never do anything that would jeopardize me sliding back off into that.

He’s been through a lot.

“The Lord has afforded me the opportunity to be where I am today,” he added.

After graduating from TTU, Gary had a “totally different outlook” on life when he packed up his family and moved them to Virginia.

Hollye went to work as a registered nurse and Gary found work with a construction company.

After a couple years, he started work as a project manager with another company overseeing the construction of apartment buildings and a chapel at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

He served on the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals in Manassas Park, Virginia.

He also took on a series of side projects.

And, more importantly, enrolled in a night class that met once a week.

Eventually they moved back to Tennessee, and Gary took a job working as a field manager and oversaw the building of about 50 houses a year — namely in the Fieldstone Farms area of Franklin.

In 2004, Harry Gill, who was director of schools prior to Don Odom, hired Gary in his current role as Assistant Superintendent for Engineering and Construction.

Gary’s first project was an addition to Smyrna High School.

In the past 14 years, he has overseen the construction of eight schools from the ground up, including Rockvale High School, which is set to open in time for the 2019-20 school year, along with additions, annexes, renovations and modifications to more than a dozen other schools.

One significant change Gary made was to square-up the corners of schools as opposed to the diagonal design that had been used prior to his arrival. Doing so reduced construction costs.

He also decreased the total volume of schools, which cut down on energy costs associated with heating and cooling those facilities.

The stress of managing multiple projects at any given time “doesn’t affect that much,” Gary said.

“I think it’s time to get some fresh blood,” Gary said. “I’ve contributed what I could.”

In recent years, he picked up the guitar again.

He handcrafts acoustics — a trade he plans to pass down to his son — and he’s also started playing local shows with old friends.

And he’s been recognized for his past accomplishments.

In 2013, he was inducted into the Independent Country Music Hall of Fame. A year later, he was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame and was named Humanitarian of the Year by the Atlanta Society of Entertainers. He also was honored with the Album of the Year by CMG Radio.

In 2015, the Atlanta Society of Entertainers acknowledged Gary again. This time naming him Songwriter of the Year.

However, there is only one recognition that truly matters: family man.

“You can have a lot of compliments on this earth,” Gary concluded, “but if somebody says that I was a good husband, a good father, I was a good grandfather, that I love my family and I love the Lord, that’s about as successful as you can get.” 

PHOTO / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT