Garey Wayne Gilley, a former member of the Fort Worth City Council and a land surveying consultant at Garey W. Gilley Consultant Services, died peacefully Sept. 30.
He was universally liked and admired both professionally and personally.
“I’ve known Garey for more than 40 years. He was a great guy, always friendly, and passionately committed to Fort Worth. He served on the City Council during the early stages of building Alliance Airport and the Alliance development. He was a key player in starting the movement of Fort Worth into a whole new era of growth,” said former Mayor Kenneth Barr.
Mr. Gilley, 78, was born July 1, 1944, and graduated Azle High School in 1962. He attended Tarleton State University and volunteered as a Navy Seabee during the Vietnam War. After two tours, he took a position at Brookes Baker Surveyors, one of the oldest land surveying companies in Texas. He purchased the company in 1978, the family said in an obituary.
Mr. Gilley attended the State of the City address Sept. 29 at Dickies Arena and then left for Kerrville to be with lifelong friends and to teach a seminar on land surveying, son Trent Gilley said in a Facebook post Sept. 30. He and his sister, Teresa Yeargins, attended a luncheon with their father.
“This morning we received a call that he had passed away peacefully in his sleep. We could never have imagined yesterday would be our last lunch we would get to have with him and the last event he attended supporting the City of Fort Worth that he so loved,” Trent Gilley said in the post.
“Garey was a visionary leader,” said Hillwood President Mike Berry. “He served, alongside Mayor Bob Bolen, during one of the most challenging times in Fort Worth’s history. After the financial collapse of 1986, Tarrant County had massive job losses; one of the worst hit areas in the country.
“Garey’s role in leading the annexation, infrastructure investment, and public-private partnership structure which led to the development of Alliance Airport and AllianceTexas, has had an indelible impact on the economy and growth of Fort Worth.
“It took a great deal of courage and commitment to overcome some of the challenges during those times. Fort Worth is a better place thanks to Garey Gilley,” Berry said.
“He was a true giant among Texas land surveyors and represents a huge loss to our community,” said Andy Nold in a posting on a Community Forums for Land Surveying & Geomatics website. “Mr. Gilley was [Texas Society of Professional Surveyors’] first Texas Young Surveyor of the Year Award recipient in 1978.”
The family obituary said Mr. Gilley was known and respected for his work on complicated boundary and land rights issues. His knowledge and testimony were instrumental in prevailing arguments of many cases won before the Texas State Supreme Court.
Mr. Gilley was elected to represent District 6 on the City Council in 1986 and served five years, three as Mayor Pro-Tem under Mayor Bob Bolen.
He also was deeply involved in the Fort Worth Sister Cities International program.
“Garey Gilley was a great friend of the city and an early believer in the power of international partners for Fort Worth,” said Mary Palko, who led the effort to establish the Fort Worth Sister Cities program. “I loved his version of English when working with translators. It always left us with a smile.”
Former council member Becky Haskin said she considered Mr. Gilley as a kind of father figure.
“He just was always the kindest person. You knew there was a wealth of knowledge in there if you asked him and I did. I asked him a million questions during that time. ‘What did you do about this’ or ‘what did you do about that?’ when I was on council,” Haskin said. “He always made me feel so good about what I was doing or how to handle it. You didn’t worry about him. He was very humble, he was very kind, and he always made you feel good, you know?”
Haskin said someone once told her that when you meet a new person and are with them more than 30 minutes and they haven’t mentioned family, you need to run.
“You need to turn the other way and walk away because they weren’t a real person or somebody you want to know. And there was never a time that I ever ran into Garey, or met him at an event or whatever, or sat with him at a luncheon, or had a discussion about something work related that he didn’t mention the kids,” Haskin said.
“You think of all the people you would want on your team, you know? I would want Garey. I mean think of those many years since 1989 and I would still want him on my team.”
Mr. Gilley was on the team headed by Bruce B. Geibel, a retired Navy captain, who was Officer-in-Charge of Seabee Team 1109 and serving as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade) in the Civil Engineer Corps of the U.S. Navy, when he served with Mr. Gilley in Thailand in 1967.
“Builder Second Class (Petty Officer) Garey W. Gilley, USN was one of the two builders on our team and trained in all the skills of the Seabees. He therefore did a lot of work surveying roads and other projects on the team. He learned to operate all the team’s construction equipment and to do electrical and plumbing work as well,” Geibel said.
His team worked with a counterpart 16-man Thailand Border Patrol Police team protecting the northeastern border with Laos from infiltration of North Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam War from May through October 1967.
“Our Navy Seabee Teams were the equivalent to the USA’s Peace Corps in that ‘Why should we fight wars if they could be prevented?’ ” he said. “Technical assistance and training were the key words to any possible use of the Seabees in such a unique military force.
“If the Seabees could deploy in small groups as a technical development force to help unify the people with their own legal government before any shooting actually started, wouldn’t it be possible to avoid such brushfire wars?”
Seabee Team 1109 worked on projects such as 32 timber bridges (one as long as 120 feet over a river), 12 hand-dug wells, improvements of four short-take-off landing airfields, six earthen dams, construction and/or improvement of 43 miles of roads leading to the Laos border to ease travel there and provided assistance to local workers at 22 schools and 12 Buddhist temples, and treated some 13,000 local village patients in 110 different villages during its tour of duty in Thailand.
“The esteem in which the local villagers and citizens held our team was reward enough for our efforts in Thailand,” Geibel said.
“BU2 Garey Gilley was an impressive team member and construction expert during our time in Thailand. As the team members traveled to well over 100 villages along the Thai-Laos border helping the local villagers improve their facilities, he was cool, calm, even tempered and helped his Border Patrol Police Team counterparts do their job in a most professional way.”
Geibel, of Canton, Georgia, served 29 years in the Civil Engineer Corps of the U.S. Navy and retired as a captain.
The family obituary said Mr. Gilley’s proudest accomplishment while on the Fort Worth City Council was working with his friend and fellow Councilman Bert Williams to take a stand against South African apartheid and to fully divest Fort Worth from investments in that country.
Bob Ray Sanders, a longtime journalist and a former columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recalls that time.
“In 1986, at the height of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, three young black men showed up at the Fort Worth City Council demanding that the city divest its retirement funds from any company doing business with South Africa,” Sanders said.
“They were met with a cool reception initially, including by the two Black members on the council. But one councilman reached out to them, and after a few private meetings, Councilman Garey Gilley became the driving force that led to the city passing a resolution calling for divesting funds in firms with ties to South Africa.
“Gilley, an always rational and committed public servant, worked with the three protesters and his fellow council members in drafting an ordinance to require all companies doing business with the city to disclose any financial ties to South Africa – the first step to imposing economic sanctions against the country. It passed unanimously and became a model for other cities across the country,” Sanders said.
He said that Anthony Lyons, now an esteemed attorney, who led that original City Council protest, to this day credits Gilley for the successful fight in Fort Worth’s opposition to apartheid, Sanders said.
Fort Worth singer Brock Stevens saw Mr. Gilley a few days before his death at the driving range at Mira Vista Country Club.
“He just always brought such a light to the conversation. He was gentle, kind and always so right on with his humor and wisdom. We, as always, spoke that day about life and family. We are all proud and love our families so very much but when he spoke about Trent, Teresa or any family member you could see the love in his eyes and feel the emotions from his heart,” Stevens said.
“He loved Fort Worth like no other. He was always so uplifting and caring. I was honored to call him friend. One thing for sure and you can go to the bank and get a loan against this statement – he had so many lifelong friends that truly was one long line to be in,” Stevens said. “ He always spoke his heart.”
Haskin said Mr. Gilley didn’t have an ego and wasn’t a boastful kind of person. He was the calm in a crazy world, especially at council, where people could yell and get mad and worried about something.
“That wasn’t him. He was just the calm. And he was a big team player, and he would help you work it out,” she said. “He had a great sense of humor. He was funny. He was really funny. And he had that grin that would go ear to ear. I never saw Garey on a bad day.”
The family said that Mr. Gilley had a tremendous love for all things outdoors. He loved his English Pointers steady over a covey of quail while on the back of his horse, a beautiful trout stream shared with friends, or a round of golf with his long-time buddies.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Edward and Dorothy, and brother Ron. He is survived by his wife, Kathy Tarpley, daughter Teresa Yeargins and her husband, Doug; son Trent Gilley; granddaughters Lillian and Claire Yeargins; stepsons Bill Tarpley and Troy Tarpley and his wife, Mallary, their children Madelyn and Tucker; sister Sandra Kilpatrick; sister-in-law Joanne Gilley; nieces Cindy McLaughlin and Cheryl Beauchamp; and nephew Kyle Gilley.
A memorial service will be Monday, Oct. 10, at 2 p.m. at Christ Chapel Bible Church, 3701 Birchman Ave., Fort Worth 76107.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the John Peter Smith Foundation at www.givetojps.org.
Paul K. Harral is a longtime Fort Worth journalist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas magazine, the Fort Worth Business Press and Fort Worth Business Press CEO magazine.