GASTONIA, N.C. — The City of Gastonia threw Gary Avery a huge party to celebrate his retirement after 30 years with the city.
"I count my blessings, that’s why you see me with this tux on and I feel good about myself," Avery said.
Avery said he feels blessed because his life wasn't always this good.
"I went to jail, and I was on drugs," Avery said.
In his early 20s, Avery said he was sitting in prison when a minister came to him. Avery said because he couldn't read, the minister played him tapes so he could hear The Word of God.
"He said 'Gary you will never go to jail again. I see things in you. God has better things for you.' That’s when I got the job at the city," Avery said.
That job helped turn his life around.
Avery married his wife Dorothy and together, they sought counseling and God.
"I tell people if they were on drugs, been to prison or to jail, you don’t have to look back at that. They need counseling, seek help because somebody will help. If you take one step, God will take three or four steps," Avery said.
Together, the couple raised Dorothy's five sons at Hoffman House, Section 8 housing, in Gastonia. Avery worked two jobs, one as a City Street worker picking up trash and laying concrete, and the other at Bojangles.
Eventually, the couple saved up enough to buy their first home.
"I’m telling you the joy of my life to see this man get his first home. I was like happy 'Gary, you got your fist home. Oh, Gary, I'm so proud of you.' I cried and I kissed the ground me and Gary because that was so exciting for me and him," Dorothy said.
The couple lives in their third home down the street from their first place at Hoffman House. Dorothy said she wanted to go back to their old neighborhood.
The couple said three of their sons joined the military, including one who is now a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. They said their grandson, Jordan Davis, plays for the Georgia Bulldogs.
Avery said it was important to him to be a good role model to his children, and to stay positive.
"I feel good about myself, I'm happy and my family is healthy. I thank god I'm so proud of my wife. She was a single parent. She let me into her life. I was able to come in and have a better life. Sometimes, black men fall through the cracks," Avery said.