Former Gastonia City Manager Gary Hicks remembered as a man of vision and honesty – Gaston Gazette

Gary Hicks, who died last week at 83, worked for the city of Gastonia for 25 years, the last 13 of them as city manager.
Those who worked for him and with him remember him as a direct, plain-spoken man who was the same person whether he was speaking with a newly-hired maintenance worker or a highly-placed state official.
“He created a culture where everyone was on a first-name basis,” said Ed Munn, who worked for Hicks for 19 years and who also went on to serve as city manager himself.
“He was accessible,” Munn continued. “His door was literally open. He was focused. He was direct. He always wanted you to cut to the quick when you were speaking with him.”
Hicks was a North Carolina native, born in Asheboro on Nov. 29, 1937. He went on to graduate from The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, with a bachelor’s degree in political science.
He then served as a captain in the Army and the Army Reserve before embarking on a long career in public service.
In addition to holding the top job in Gastonia, Hicks also served as interim city manager for several other municipalities including Lowell, Stanley, and Kings Mountain.
Hicks was hired as a planner by Gastonia in July of 1968. Three years later, he was promoted to planning director. In July of 1980, he was elevated to the city manager’s post, serving until his retirement in 1993.
“He was brilliant,” said Munn of Hicks. “A lot of the things that Gary did, I tried to emulate. He was friendly, he talked to everyone and he truly and deeply cared about people and meeting their needs.”
Munn said Hicks focused on the city departments that were on the front lines in dealing with residents — public works, police, fire, electric, water, sewer, and finance.
“He knew how to cut through the red tape to help people out,” Munn said. “But he also had a clear vision for the future. Things the city enjoys now — an excellent parks and rec department and superior utility systems — they all tie back to Gary Hicks.”
Munn remembers also, however, that Hicks was not all business, indeed far from it.
“He was known for telling jokes,” he said. “He always tried to cut the tension, to ease the pressure with humor. And it pretty much always worked.”
Phil Hinely never worked for Gary Hicks, but as Gaston County manager they often worked together.
“I was appointed county manager in 1980,” Hinely said, “And Gary immediately reached out to me. He took me around. He introduced me to people I needed to know. He did everything he could to help me succeed.”
Hinely, who served as county manager until 2001, said he and Hicks bonded during trips to Chapel Hill for meetings of the City and County Managers Association.
“We would ride up together,” he said. “We’d often share a room. We both enjoyed eating in cafeterias. We weren’t up there to party.”
Hinely said he got a look at Hicks’ character on their first trip together to Chapel Hill.
“Gary grew up in Asheboro, and the first time we went up he said, ‘Do you mind if we stop by my parents’ house?’ He cared about them, cared about his mom. That says something to me about the quality of a man if he has a good relationship with his mother.”
Even though Hicks worked for the city and he for the county, Hinely said he grew to think of Hicks as both a friend and a partner.
“He was a man you could trust,” said Hinely. “That’s not always the case in government and politics. He was great leader. He would hire good people, delegate what he wanted them to do, and then hold them responsible.”
Like Munn, Hinely praised Hicks as a man with a vision.
“He began his career as a planner,” Hinely said. “He knew the future didn’t just happen. You had to build for it, plan for it. So a lot of what Gastonia is today, can be traced back to Gary Hicks.”
Surviving Hicks are his wife of 62 years, Annette Steed Hicks, sons Gary D. “Donny” Hicks Jr. and his wife Amy, and Gregory D. Hicks and his wife Pattye, “bonus daughter” Laurel Roe Morris, granddaughters Allison Hicks Bradley, Carolyn Hicks, and Leah Hicks, and great-grandchildren Jude Hicks, Eliza Arnold, and Luca Dollins.
The family asks that memorial contributions be made to Gaston Hospice, P.O. Box 3984, Gastonia, NC, 28054.
Bill Poteat may be reached at 704-869-1855 or [email protected]

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