Meet Your Neighbor: Avery a man of consummate goodwill

Jamie Combs • Jun 10, 2018 at 3:43 PM

James Avery has an undeniable knack for rubbing people the right way.

In fact, you could say Avery is to an affable nature what the Jolly Green Giant is to a pod of peas.

“I think my dad and mom always raised us to be courteous to people,” Avery said of he and his two brothers’ upbringing. “And I just always had the nature in me, too, to be nice and courteous. I want to treat people like they treat me and be nice to everyone I meet. It’s just the way I was raised and it’s part of me, too.

“I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with a mom and a dad that were in church and kept us in church, and I think that was a big part of it, too. When you are raised in an environment like that, it’s easy to be taught the right way — and you look to keep that in you as you get older.”

Seldom seen without a smile rivaling that of former “NFL Today” stalwart Irv Cross, the man known to so many as “Budda” ranks among Elizabethton’s most well-thought-of citizens.

Avery, 55, is a 1981 Elizabethton High graduate and former Cyclone basketball player (All-Big 10 honorable mention as a senior). Also in his background is a 13-year run working inside the men’s clothing section at Watson’s.

“That’s where I met many of the people I know,” said Avery, referring to his hometown department store of old.

These days, Avery is nearing the quarter-century mark as a driver for Knoxville-based TNG Logistics.

“It’s been a good company, a good living,” he said. “The guys I work with, we’re all like family.”

Often on the go, Avery graciously took time to discuss a few additional topics.

Q: How did the nickname “Budda" originate?

A: (Former EHS basketball coach) Skeeter Swift gave me that name back when I think I was in my sophomore year. He started going around giving everybody nicknames. We were sitting in practice one day and he came to me — you know, I’m a little skinny guy … 165 pounds, 6-foot-2 — and he said, “I think we’re going to call you ‘Black Budda.’” I said, “Why are you going to call me ‘Black Budda?’” He said, “You just look like somebody we all ought to worship.” You know Skeeter, he was kind of different anyway. We did some crazy things back when he was the coach, but he was a good guy, a good coach. That nickname has stuck with me ever since then. I’ve always had that name — it’s just part of me. Even my bosses and stuff at work and guys I work with all call me that. A lot of people don’t even know my first name (laughter).

Q: Your years as an Elizabethton High basketball player are remembered by a lot of folks. What types of memories do you have from playing for the Cyclones?

A: Probably the best times I ever had were when Coach (Len) Dugger came there (1979-80 season), and he kind of took me under his wing. He took me and (former teammate) Chris Troutman around and we scouted other teams, just hung out and went and ate and stuff — and just had a really good time with him as a coach being there. But, basically, I love basketball and loved to play. The biggest thing in my life was playing basketball when I was there. I loved it more than sleeping or eating. And the guys I played with, we were all like family and took care of each other. We had some really good players I played with. It was fun times. It just made school much better to have basketball in your life.

Q: You’ve had to deal with recent health issues, including a lung disease (sarcoidosis) and having a kidney removed. Can you summarize your feelings on going through that very difficult process?

A: It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through in my life. … They did the test on my lungs and it came back being the sarcoidosis. They started treating it with steroids and then (a doctor) told me I had another issue. They found something on my kidney that they thought was cancer. And he started trying to line me up with a doctor to do the surgery for it. Dr. Grant Taylor ended up doing it. There were times I didn’t think I was going to be able to get through it, but I just kept hanging on trusting in God and leaving it in His hands. Before I got out of the hospital to go back home to prepare for surgery, I got on my knees in the hospital and told my wife (Linda), “I’m going to pray and leave this thing in God’s hands.” And that’s what I did. I never thought about it anymore. ... The greatest thing was after the surgery and they did the biopsy on (the kidney) — and it came back not being cancerous. The prayers that everybody had put out had been answered.

Q: While battling these physical challenges, you received a tremendous outpouring of community support. What has been your reaction to that?

A: I’m so thankful for everyone. I had churches all around — everywhere, across the country — praying. I mean just everywhere. I was shocked by the outpour of people calling me, texting me, letting me know — sending cards, money, everything. It was unreal. We couldn’t have got through it without (all the support). It’s a blessing to have that kind of love from people. Hopefully, I can give the same back to someone else — that’s the biggest thing about it. It was tough. I’ll tell you, man, that was the toughest time of my life. For about the first couple of weeks (after surgery), I really didn’t think I was going to be able to go through with it. I was in so much pain and couldn’t move or get around. My wife just took the work time off — vacation time — and just stayed with me every day and kept me motivated. And people texting and calling, and friends telling me how much they were praying for us — it kept me going.

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