Local author publishes love story | New
Lenoir City author Alex Gabbard recently published a new book, “My Beautiful Mary: A Love Story”, which shares a portrait of the love of her life.
Nuclear physicist, Navy veteran, teacher and writer with expertise in automotive culture and history, Gabbard said the story connects with other baby boomers.
Gabbard came from an era of cars, girls and rock’n’roll. He grew up in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
“What did the boys have?” Girls and cars, or maybe cars and girls? Gabbard said. “But that’s all there was back then. And rock’n’roll music.
Music brought Gabbard and Mary closer together in their younger years. He visited Mary on Sunday afternoons, and on occasions when Mary was out of work, they practiced dancing.
“I sang songs, we danced, we won dance competitions,” Gabbard said. “I was teaching him rock’n’roll. We did tours and dips and everything you saw on American Bandstand. Hell, you could put on what they called back then, “cut a rug.” But I wanted her near me. There was a method to my madness, and we really enjoyed it.
The couple’s life was to enjoy the ride, and not just in fast cars. They married in 1965, and while their story is classic, it is unique in the details. In fact, Mary proposed to Gabbard. After their marriage, Gabbard enlisted in the US Navy and served until the birth of their first son in 1969.
“We’ve been married for almost 55 years, and it was an outgrowth of the rock and roll era,” he said. “It was the spirit of the time. It was us; we did it.
Alex and Mary’s youngest son Wesley Gabbard said his father always seeks the good and the positive, which he sees in himself.
“As a doctor you see a lot of misery, but it helps to know that most people are good and most things end well,” Wesley said.
The family traveled because of Gabbard’s photography of people and cars.
“He’s an interesting person who’s done books and photography and travel, and that doesn’t even factor in all of the science,” Wesley said.
Gabbard and Mary traveled for his military training. From Chicago to San Diego to Albuquerque, they crisscrossed the country in Mary’s 1966 Sunbeam Alpine. While serving in the Navy, Gabbard received H-bomb training, and his military experience with nuclear weapons led him to work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory as a researcher. At ORNL, he worked in nuclear physics while pursuing a career as a writer.
“All of these things are just part of what happened, and Mary was with me all the way,” he said.
Despite a lack of college degrees in journalism, Gabbard previously taught creative writing at Roane State Community College.
“I grew up in a family that tells stories,” he says. “On Sunday afternoon we sat on the porch of the farmhouse and the banjo would come out and stories were told. Half of physicists don’t even know how to spell, but it just flows from my fingertips. He always has.
Gabbard’s writing includes race car culture and history, contraband in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, family genealogy and history, and hot rods. He has published 37 books and won three Moto Awards, awarded by the International Automotive Media Conference, for excellence in automotive journalism.
He is used to collecting information for historical context or family history and began the process of writing his love story about four years ago.
“When I found out about his death, the whole world just changed,” Gabbard said. “At that point, what am I going to do now?” Well, I’ll do this story.
It took her 10 months to go through all of Mary’s stuff – everything she wrote, what her friends wrote to her and their love letters when they were young.
“All of this I realized is history,” Gabbard said. “I don’t have to tell a story, I just have to describe what it was like to be there, to do that with her, and the story unfolded naturally.”
“My Beautiful Mary” tells their story from start to finish – from young children leaving the farm in North Carolina, to driving through Category 4 tornadoes during the 1965 Palm Sunday outbreak, to visiting German castles and trips to Europe in foreign hot rods.
“We always knew what was important, and what was important was the first thing she said to me after offering to me: ‘Whatever happens, we’ll do it together. And that’s what it was, it was together, ”he said.