Jack and Genie. The brainy military strategist and the beautiful big-band babe. They are quite a pair!
Recently, when I sat down with Brigadier General John Gary, USMC (Ret.) and Mrs. Genevieve Gary in their beautifully-appointed Fairway Lakes town home, I delighted to be in the company of a longtime-married couple who are each other’s biggest fans.
As Jack Gary described the night they first met, 33 plus years ago, I WAS THERE. It happened in San Diego. He was a battle-weary Marine officer just returned from a tour in Viet Nam. Friends suggested they go to the Officers Club on base, where a pretty girl singer graced the bandstand. Very pretty, Jack noted. The friends bet him he wouldn’t go up and ask her to dance. It was a no-lose bet. To his surprise, she stepped off the bandstand and into his arms.
While he had been pursuing a military career, she had been chasing a dream in show business. Her name, Genevieve, had been shortened to Genie by that time, to fit on a marquee. She sang with Harry James’ band. She performed at the Copacabana. She “danced a little.” She appeared in “Pal Joey” with Frank Sinatra and “Kiss Them Goodbye for Me” with Cary Grant.
Jack says, “The other day I was watching an old movie, and there she was.”
Genie says, “It seems like another life to me now.”
Her life was about to change drastically. Very little time intervened before Genie and Jack decided to get married. Four months after the wedding, he was once again deployed to Viet Nam. She was just beginning to find out what it took to be a “military wife.” And now his two children had joined her two in the growing family.
His life was changing a bit, too. Just before he left for Viet Nam the newlyweds went to Lake Tahoe. The band at their hotel was a band Genie once sang with in San Francisco. They called her up to sing, and the stalwart Marine was left standing in back, holding her handbag. What a change!
High points in Jack Gary’s career included serving as a naval attaché in Australia for three years. They sailed there aboard the SS Mariposa. The band was playing and flags were flying. Then the band members recognized her; she used to sing with them, too. When their regular singer got sick during the trip, she filled in each night. When they reached Australia the band wanted her to keep going to the Fiji Islands and beyond with them, but her new husband had different ideas about that.
Another high point, teaching Naval Science at Virginia Military Institute, his alma mater, where the Garys lived “in dilapidated elegance” was particularly memorable. Attending V.M.I. and later teaching there is at least partially responsible for the General’s affinity for the Civil War. There are still cannonballs imbedded in V.M.I.’s walls from that conflict, which the cadets would try to pry out and the historical society would then come along and re-embed.
After Gary’s second tour in Viet Nam he was made a Brigadier General. And it was at that rank in 1982 that he was sent to Washington D.C. to his “most stressful job ever.” He and three other officers monitored constantly to decide if and when Russia would launch a nuclear attack.“ We were on the front lines,” he remembers, “reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense. They would only let you do it for a year.”
General Gary formally retired in l986, from Central Command right here in Tampa and here they’ve stayed. The longest they’ve ever been anywhere. We know him best here as the Military Analyst for Channel 8 News.
He started at Channel 8 during Desert Storm, over 10 years ago. Since many of his last few years in the military had been spent in the Middle East, Jack was uniquely qualified to comment on all things Middle Eastern, terrorism included. On the morning of September 11, 2001 Channel 8 called him into action. He remembers thinking, “The American people will have to remain calm.”
A clear picture emerged, in the time we talked, of a man who has both knowledge and convictions about his country’s role in the world.
Re 9/11:“That was the first time since 1812 that the U.S. mainland has been attacked.
Re Iraq: “Now, for the first time, we are fighting in our own vital interests."
Re partisan political criticism: “I am so proud to live in a country where you can criticize the president. But if you criticize be prepared to offer a solution.”
Here’s my favorite Gary quote, though: “Nothing is as good or as bad as first reported.” Well said, General.
Over the years, the Garys have raised four children. “Sometimes we forget whose child is whose.” Their only daughter lives in California, and has given them their only grandchild. A son lives here, in nearby Beacon Meadows with Genie’s 97-year-old mother, who sees Jack on television and frequently calls to take issue with him. That tickles him.
Another son is a presidential appointee in D.C., The Director of the International Visitors Program, which brings in foreign visitors to tour the U.S. and gain understanding. Many heads of state have gone through this program over the years. General Gary will be speaking to a group of these visitors in Jacksonville later this month.
Gary is sought after as a speaker, and teacher. He will teach a class at USF this fall for the Learning in Retirement program on Global Diplomacy and Military Strategy.
The Garys have forged a fulfilling life for themselves in our community. Genie is recovering from knee surgery, so is getting slowly back up to speed, doing water aerobics and bicycling. They are active members of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, about which Genie laughingly comments, “until I had my knee problems I never realized how much kneeling and standing the Episcopalians do.”
Because of Jack’s work at Channel 8, he has become “one of the gang” there, is friends with such newscasters as Lance Williams and Gayle Sierens. They are invited to all of the special events at the station, and thoroughly enjoy their association there. They’re also part of the gang out at MacDill AFB. They get a kick out of the reaction of people at the base who have seen Jack on TV and wonder where they know him from.
We are fortunate to have our share of retired military officers in Carrollwood Village. General Gary and his lady are surely as charming and accomplished as you are likely to find anywhere. We’re glad they’re our neighbors.
- by Sandra Harrington from the Fall ’03 issue of Village Views