Tommy Garner is far from your ordinary Yadkin County citizen.
He’s spent time on the road with a beach music band, he’s served as a high school band director and he’s been a mechanic. Despite the wide variety of his trades, he says they all tied together in the end.
Garner grew up in Hamptonville. He graduated from West Yadkin High School and went on to Appalachian State University where he graduated with a degree in music.
After graduation Garner found himself in Statesville where he joined forces with a band called The Venturas.
“I was going to school at Mitchell Community College at the time and so I made friends with some people and they needed another person and I tried out and made it,” Garner said.
One of the mentors for the band was a member of a beach music band called The Catalinas and after spending some time with Garner he decided that he needed him with his band. Garner graciously accepted the offer and went on the road with The Catalinas playing trumpet, trombone, bass guitar and even piano.
“I played with The Catalinas for about four years,” Wingler said. “We went to interesting places and we got to perform with people like The Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Joe Pope and the Tams, Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions, and Jerry Butler.”
In the fall of 1969, Garner received a call from acquaintances back home. The Forbush High School band director had turned in his notice after the first grading term and Garner was asked to step in as his replacement until they could find someone else.
“I sort of laughed and said, ‘yeah, that’d be fun’,” Garner said. “Well 30 years later they finally found someone else.”
Garner said that although he didn’t really take the job as band director seriously at first he fell in love with the job.
“We had some very satisfying moments,” Garner said. “We received a superior rating at a state concert. We received superior ratings with marching band. Without the parents, students and the help that I had it wouldn’t have been possible.”
In 1994, Garner’s father passed away and left him with an auto body shop that had been in the family since Garner was a child. After he retired from Forbush High School in 1999 he decided to reopen the shop.
“The reason I opened this shop was to take care of my toys,” Garner said. “I thought I might occasionally do a job for someone else. Well, all of my toys have taken a back seat and it’s become a full-fledged business; a total 180 degrees from what I had planned for it to be when I retired.”
Garner said that he wouldn’t have it any other way though. He enjoys doing the routine oil change or inspection and hanging out with his regulars in the lobby. The crew has even earned a term of endearment; Tommy’s Lounge Lizards.
“We have many loafers and a lot of fun is had here,” Garner said.
When he wasn’t working on cars or shaping Yadkin County’s youth, Garner was also active in local government. He ran for county commissioner in late 2006 as a joke since he’s a registered Democrat.
“The county Democrat party had been after me for a couple of years before in the previous election and I said no,” Garner said. “They asked me again so I flipped a coin and the coin landed on run for county commissioner. In Yadkin County there’s three to one Republicans over Democrats, so I figured there’s no way I would get elected. The joke was on me as it turned out.”
Garner happened to receive the highest number of votes in the election and earned himself a four year term. A term that was never boring.
Garner is infamous for some of his commissioner room antics, one of which being an incident where he came to a meeting with a dead snake draped around his neck.
“My son almost stepped on a 30 inch copperhead and he called me over because he didn’t know what it was,” Garner said. “I killed it and laid it in front of the garage and it got called everything in the world, rattlesnake, water moccasin, but nobody knew what it was.”
This got Garner wondering just how many people in the county didn’t know what a copperhead looked like or had never seen one.
“I just threw it around my neck and walked into the meeting. At the end of the meeting I announced to everybody what it was and I laid it on a table and everyone in the building came and looked at it. That told me that they didn’t know what a copperhead looked like or hadn’t seen one and wanted to be up close and personal. That’s the teacher in me I guess.”
Garner said that despite his silly stories he also feels that he got a lot accomplished as commissioner being instrumental in the installation of water and sewer lines in several areas of the county, the construction of two middle schools and the change from carbon monoxide euthanasia to injectable euthanasia at Yadkin County Animal Control.
Today, Garner still runs Tommy’s Auto Body shop in Hamptonville, drag races with his son and travels with his wife.
“Everything in my life that has happened to me I’ve looked at as being meant to be,” Garner said. “I can look back now and see where playing on the road with a band helped me with teaching and teaching helped me to calm myself down a little bit because I was a perfectionist and you cannot get perfection out of high school students. Everything has happened to me for a reason and everything is tied together.”
Reach Lindsay Craven at 679-2341 or at email@example.com.