Gary Pressley retires with laughter

Dec. 08, 2012 @ 07:28 PM

When Gary Pressley retires on Jan. 1, he’ll take plenty of laugh-provoking memories with him, but he also will leave his fellow workers missing his hijinks.
In his 39 years as senior parks supervisor for the city of High Point, Pressley has seen things that still make him laugh – the naked man stuck in the tree – and he’s played plenty of practical jokes on his coworkers, such as pretending to have his eye on the salamanders at Piedmont Environmental Center for a tasty dinner.
“I’ve had more fun than legally I should have had,” he said.
Pressley fell into his job almost by accident. After graduating from T. Wingate Andrews High School in 1969 and Greensboro College in 1973, he planned to get his master’s degree in religion and philosophy and teach. But a summer job he started at age 16 prepping softball fields for High Point’s Parks and Recreation Department set its hooks deep into his psyche.
“I went off to grad. school at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in old Wake Forest. I thought I was done with Parks and Rec.,” he said. “But I missed it as soon as I went off to school and thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to continue this,’ so I came back in 1976.
“I realized I wasn’t cut out to be a teacher; I would have bored the students to death.”
By that time, he already had been the first marina manager at Oak Hollow Lake for two years after college, and he remembers unloading the eight-sided, pre-fabricated first marina shelter. Throughout the years, Pressley gained experience with all aspects of managing both Oak Hollow and City Lake parks, and in 2007 he became supervisor of both.
Although he’s never been interested in hunting or fishing, he enjoyed the freedom of being outdoors,  and he especially liked dealing with the people who patronized the parks.
Talking with several thousand people some weekends and hearing their stories spurred him to make both parks – especially City Lake – more family oriented and safe and to physically clean out undergrowth at City Lake. For many years, City Lake Park was considered unsafe, so Pressley instructed park rangers to ride constantly through the parks and head off any problems. 
“I’m very proud of how few people problems we had,” he said. “People had respect for each other, regardless or race. It became sort of cosmopolitan. We were prejudiced against people who misbehaved. ... We used to have a joke that the back side of the park had lots of married people, but they weren’t married to each other.”
During Pressley’s tenure, he’s seen lots of development and improvement of facilities, especially at Oak Hollow, the newer of the city’s two parks. He’s especially proud that he initiated the floating fall leaf tours at City Lake that now are so popular.
Pressley’s main office is at City Lake, and windows there give him a view of the lake that seems to be his favorite of the two. An amateur historian, he’s researched the history of City Lake Park and kept newspaper clippings and photos related to both parks, and he plans to donate the artifacts to the High Point Museum.
“I’m so interested in the history of City Lake Park, but I’m not sure there will be anybody else with those kind of feelings,” he said.
At age 61, Pressley purposely is retiring early so he’ll have plenty of energy to explore new possibilities.
He has two children, John Pressley of Mount Airy and Shelley Garis of High Point, and three grandchildren: Thomas Garis, 15; Hannah Garis, 11; and Madeleine Pressley, 22 months. And he has big plans to be a doting grandfather and work on home projects. He also would like to begin volunteer work for groups such as the High Point Museum, Hospice of High Point and his church, First Baptist Church. “I loved my job because it helped people enjoy life,” he said. “After a busy weekend, I’d feel proud people had a good, safe weekend and didn’t have to spend a fortune to do it.”
A retirement party already is in the works, and Pressley plans to say “thank-you,” rather than “good-bye” to people he’s worked with.
“No man or woman can do everything by himself, and I’ve had lots of help,” he said.
vknopfler@hpe.com / 888-3601