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Gray spends 23 years in city parks


Buddy Gray and John Carter, two longtime Russellville Parks and Recreation Department employees, remove a fence at the old tennis courts in Russellville. Both are nearing retirement.| Nathan Strickland/FCT


Some people may not realize how much it takes out of a person to maintain city parks and recreational spots such as youth baseball fields, but the ones who have been chalking the lines and cutting the grass know all to well how demanding the job can be.

“Sometimes it gets so hot during the summer months that you almost pass out because of the heat,” said Buddy Gray, who is part of the maintenance crew for Russellville’s parks and recreation department. “It can also be demanding at times, because you always have someone looking over your shoulder to see if the parks are in tip-top shape. If they aren’t, you better believe a phone call will be made to city hall about it.”

Gray, 52, has spent 23 years retracing his steps everyday, working on the maintenance crew to keep all of the city parks nice and neat for the community.

“It would probably drive a person crazy, doing the same thing over and over again everyday,” he said. “But I enjoy working outdoors and getting to know the public. When I first moved here I got a job indoors and I found out real fast that it wouldn’t do for me to be cooped up all day.”

Gray said he has served under four different mayors and believes the best part of the job would have to be the paycheck.

Gray said in the beginning it was tough because when he got the job there were only three people doing all the work.

“In the beginning it was awful because it was just me, John (Carter) and Pete (Smith)” he said. “There is way to much to do these days for three people. I’m glad they hired us some help when they did.”

Even though the help has come, Gray said there have been some programs to leave through the years that he hated to see go.

“These days it seems we don’t have as many youth programs as we did back then and the adult leagues have really disappeared,” he said. “I remember when a bunch of us as adults would play softball back in the day out at Southside ball park. Now times have changed and that park hardly ever gets used anymore.”

Gray said he is thankful for his wife, Denise and son Greg and believes if it weren’t for them he probably wouldn’t even have the job.

“I’ve got a good woman who has supported me through the years,” he said. “I’m also proud of my son and the man that he has become. Greg and his wife live in Athens near the Elk River. He teaches social studies and coaches out at the Monrovia school,” Gray said. “My wife and I bug him all the time about having us a grandchild. I would really like to spoil a little granddaughter one day.”

Gray said he has been getting up and going to work at 6 a.m. every weekday morning since 1986 and believes he has about two more years before going into retirement.

“Two more to go and I’m gone. This work is tough on an old man like me,” he said. “ About five to ten years ago I could run with a weed eater, but now it is tough. I won’t be the type of person to just go home set in the recliner during retirement because I believe you have got to stay active, but not having to punch a time clock and spending more time with my family are going to be some of the things I look forward too.”

Gray said spending time with his family and an incident that happened two years ago helped to make his retirement decision.

“I was off mowing by myself over at City Lake Park on a zero-turn mower and at one point I went to shut it down and get off of it,” he said. “At that moment, the mower started heading towards the lake and I went after it. The mower then fell over on top of me into the lake. The lake wasn’t deep, but it was just deep enough to where the mower trapped my leg to where the water was over my head. I thought I was a goner. There were two women who happened to see me about two minutes after it happened and called for help. Luckily I pulled and jerked until I got free. It ripped all the hide off of my leg but I was just thankful to still be alive.”

Gray said that moment really made him think about how short life really is and has played a significant roll in his retirement decision.

“Of course now I get the jokes from all my co-workers like ‘you still keeping that moss cut on the bottom of the lake’” he said. “ I can laugh about it now but it was a scary time for me when it happened.”

Gray said the biggest things he will miss are the friendships, but not to worry because he will be around, but “just not punching that time clock.”