By Tim Stevens
There is no way that I know of to adequately convey the contributions that Faye Gardner made to our community.
Her handiwork is on display every time a visitor pauses to read an inscription at the Garner Veterans Memorial and every time anyone notices Garner’s All-American City signs.
Her efforts are apparent at the thriving Garner Chamber of Commerce and when Broadway stars come to the Garner Performing Arts Center. She helped the Garner Towne Players and Aversboro Road Baptist Church. She played a big role in the soon-to-be-built YMCA.
She worked with Community of Hope and other charities.
She helped Miss North Carolinas, the homeless and a lot of people in between.
But she did so much more.
How do you measure the impact on the lives of those people she touched? How do you quantify giving encouraging words at the right time, corrective instruction at other times, and epitomizing vision, determination, integrity and leadership?
Gardner, 73, died on Friday, Nov. 6, after battling various cancers for years. And battled is the right word.
Cancer took her life, but she refused to allow the disease to touch her spirit.
“We’re all going to die,” she said less than a month ago. “The key is to live while you are alive.”
Three weeks ago, she was tucked into a side room of the Garner chamber office working on upcoming projects. But she also was preparing for the ending of a life well-lived.
She made an appointment with a lawn care worker and said she wanted to do everything she could while she was still able.
“I want to take care of my business,” she said. “There comes a time when you can’t do that anymore. I want to do what I can for as long as I can.”
It is difficult, if not impossible, to think of anyone who did more for her community.
She was a driving force in the building of the Garner Veterans Memorial, helping raise $500,000 when the collective wisdom was that the task was impossible. She liked to say that essentially everyone in the community made a contribution of some sort to the memorial. She was proud of that.
“Our intent was not to find one or two donors to fund the project because then it becomes their memorial,” she said soon after the memorial was dedicated. “Our goal was to have the community feel like they are a part of it.”
There is no question that she needed all of her patience, her skill, her integrity, her determination and her vision to see the project through to completion. She had a lot of each of those qualities.
I saw all those traits when we were co-chairs of a church fund-raising program. Our consultant said that we’d be able to raise about half of our targeted amount. She refused the consultant’s counsel and went ahead and helped raise more than the original target.
She believed in the goodness of people and of their desire to make the world a better place. She always was quick with an encouraging word.
So many times to so many people she said, “I like that. I’ll help you with that.”
She had a way of achieving other people’s vision.
“Essentially every good thing that the chamber has achieved in the last 10 years, Faye was a huge part of,” said Neal Padgett, the Garner Chamber of Commerce president.
“I have never seen anyone else like her. It is hard to believe that I won’t be able to talk to her again.”
She avoided the spotlight. She’d do the work, she just didn’t want to pick up the recognition.
But people recognized what she did and who she was.
She won the 2008 James R. Stevens Service to Garner Award, a recognition given for long-term contributions to the community.
But there is no award that covers the scope of her contributions. We could name buildings, awards, events or funds in her honor, but whatever it was, it really wouldn’t convey who she was and what she did for our community.
In the history of Garner, no other person may have had the impact that she did.
She was a mentor to many. Hopefully, we learned our lessons well.