Gary McAllister retired to a life of community service

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 25, 2018 at 11:01 PM

Washington County Commissioner Gary McAllister is a man of many hats.

A retired Army colonel, McAllister is a dedicated veterans advocate and member of the Johnson City-Washington County Veterans Memorial Committee, chairman of this year’s Washington County United Way campaign, a Washington County Animal Control Board member, and a member and a past president of the 101-year-old Johnson City Rotary Club.

A native of Johnson City, he graduated from Science Hill in 1978 and earned his bachelor’s degree in history at East Tennessee State University. He joined the military straight out college and spent 28-and-a-half years in a variety of leadership assignments.

His military career included service as senior staff officer to the Army Surgeon General, battalion executive officer, company commander and platoon leader. He also served as an assignments officer and was named one of the Army’s top medical recruiters in the Western United States.

In his years at the Pentagon, McAllister helped coordinate medical policies and readiness issues that affected more than 500,000 soldiers and their families. His duties included briefing the Army vice-chief of staff, the Army surgeon general, the chief nurse of the Army and many other ranking civilian and military personnel.

On the first day of his retirement, McAllister said he woke up awed that all his work was done. Not long afterward, he began looking for a new job and called home to Johnson City when he saw an advertisement for a ROTC instructor at Science Hill.

It was when he learned the job had recently been filled, he said, that he realized how much he wanted to come home. And so he did, moving to Jonesborough and gradually taking on the various service roles he has since become known for.

Always a good sport, McAllister agreed to take on a Five Questions interview with the Johnson City Press for the opportunity to talk about each of those service roles and why they are important to him. But first there was the fun stuff:

Favorite pizza? Mellow Mushroom pepperoni; best when paid for by his friend Jeff Banyas

Favorite TV show? Andy Griffith reruns; he’s seen them all.

Pets? Bristol, the Shih Poo.

Favorite pastime? Weekly trivia games with a large gang of friends who gather for pizza at Mellow Mushroom paid for by the loser.

Professional sports team? A diehard Atlanta Braves fan, he says he is watching or listening to the Braves every time they play.

McAllister attributes the active role he has takes in the community to his father, the late Ross McAllister who was a member of the Lions Club and very active in the Boys & Girls Club. “That’s what you’re supposed to do,” he said. “Give back to your community.” His selection of this year’s United Way campaign theme also says much about his approach to service: “Changing Lives & Making in a Difference in Our Community.”

Why did you get involved in the United Way?

There are a lot of great charitable organizations in our area. But the United Way touches a wide range of people. It helps children, single parents, families, the homeless, senior adults and more. It changes so many lives and makes a tremendous difference in our community.

The more I learned about the United Way the more I thought what a great organization the United Way is and how much they help people. One of the things the United Way does that touches me is the shoe fund. They have them in Washington County and Johnson City schools and they helped provide shoes to 1,500 kids last year. You think about shoes and what happens when you don’t have good shoes. You go to school and you get picked on. But a little girl who has shoes can go back to being a kid and not worry about shoes.

What do you consider the most important issues facing the new County Commission?

I hope we can work with the school board and ensure that our schools are adequately funded. I want us to provide our children with the best possible education. Education is the key to ensuring our community continues to grow and be prosperous.

We’ve built one school and we’ve got another one to go. Boones Creek is under construction and Jonesborough is coming up. What we’re going to do. Exactly how to move forward. What the school board wants to do. And staying within our budget are the big issues coming up. It’s a little early yet, but it will be interesting to see what we’re going to do and how we’ll do it. I’m looking forward to this coming year and seeing how we can work together. It’s a brand new commission, and if we can all keep an open mind, we can work together for the betterment of Washington County.

What are the biggest challenges facing the Animal Control Board?

I was here about a year when they had the old shelter and got to see the new shelter open and how much people supported that shelter. Now they’ve got that big beautiful shelter but we’ve got more animals. We’ve grown so much and we need more money. Cara (Ledbetter) has gone to fundraising fulltime now and Tammy Davis is the executive director. It’s a hard job, but if anyone can do it Tammy can. I can’t say enough about all the people who work and volunteer at there. They’re all great.

What brought you to the Rotary Club?

The Rotary, that’s just enjoyable. I thought I knew a lot of people when I came back here and then I went to the Rotary and there’s 150 people I didn’t know that who are all committed to serving their community. It’s ‘service above self,’ that’s their motto. I got to be president during the 100th anniversary year and went back through the archives at ETSU and read up on all their history and what a great organization it’s been. And I was president when they opened the splash pad and I have gotten to see how many people have enjoyed that and are still enjoying it today.

How do you view the work of the Veterans Memorial Committee?

Of all the things I’ve done, the veterans committee is the most near and dear to my heart. I spent 28-and-a-half years with the military and I am a veteran. (The committee is) seeing how we help veterans and honor those who have died so that their memory is not forgotten. (Names on) the red granite (memorial walls) are the ones who died. Everyone of them has a story and they are all from Washington County. Alan Jackson, he’s a committee member. He has a story on everyone of them. Meeting people like that and hearing all their stories, keeps their memory alive and that means a lot to me.

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