He could undoubtedly be called the most photographed man in Elkin. Portraying the wine god Bacchus each year for the Yadkin Valley Wine Festival is just one of the many ways Gary Maxey left a lasting legacy. Maxey passed away on March 24 and his absence will be felt by many in Elkin and far beyond.
Rebel Good, founder of the wine festival, said that Maxey volunteered the first year, along with daughter Alexa, to portray Bacchus and the wine princess.
“They were just a tremendous hit with the people who attended that first festival,” Good said. “Everybody wanted to get their picture made with them.”
Good said the committee then asked Maxey to reprise the role each year.
“Gary’s passing is just a real tragic loss for the community,” said Good. “He was such a larger-than-life person. He just brightened up any room he was in.”
Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce President Myra Cook echoed Good’s sentiment on the loss.
“This will leave a hole not only in our hearts, but in the festival,” Cook said. “He was an amazing man. He was Bacchus. He portrayed the character and he made people have fun and that will be a presence that will really be missed.”
Originally from Illinois, Maxey and his family have called Elkin home for several decades now. Maxey ran a financial investment consulting business and was involved in a number of community organizations from his church, Elkin First United Methodist, to Rotary Club, Foothills Arts Council, Foothills Theatre and others.
Maxey most recently performed in Foothills Theatre’s production of “Twelve Angry Jurors” in November of last year.
“Gary always put in 110 percent to every role he played,” said Director Kim Arnold. More than putting his all in while acting, he was also fun to be around, Arnold said. Maxey hosted a number of the group’s cast parties, including parties for the children’s theater summer camp.
“I had the pleasure of working with Gary not only on the Foothills Arts Council board, but in many Foothills Theatre’s productions like ‘On Golden Pond,’ ‘Annie,’ ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and our last play together, ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’” said Leighanne Martin Wright, former director of Foothills Theatre and former executive director of the arts council. “Gary put so much of himself into any role he was asked to do, and he really made the iconic roles of Mr. Mushnik, Norman Thayer, and Big Daddy his own. Elkin and the Foothills Theatre stage will miss his presence greatly.”
Foothills Theatre is already discussing the addition of an award in Maxey’s memory that will be presented to an actor each year during the winter production.
Wright recalled Maxey telling her he would have liked to pursue acting professionally, but he liked to eat. She joked that a possible award for the group could be called the “Memorial Maxey I’d rather act than eat” award.
“Eating’s a hard habit to quit,” was a favorite quote of Maxey’s, said fellow actor Morgan Harrison.
From college plays to community theater in Illinois and then to Surry County, Maxey touched all those with whom he performed.
”I directed Gary in several productions for Foothills Theatre as well as two productions for The NoneSuch Playmakers,” said Brack Llewellyn. “Gary brought a lifetime of experience and theatrical training to every show. His instincts onstage were virtually flawless. He always took his roles to the next level. I think over the years that I learned more from him than he did from me. Plus, he was just plain fun to work with. He had, for lack of a better term, a kind of grouchy charm that we all loved. I’ll always treasure our times together.”
Bonnie Thompson from Lincoln, Illinois, also shared her condolences on Maxey’s passing. She served as an usherette for the Lincoln Community Theater production of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” in the early 1970s in which Maxey played the role of Shroeder. Thompson said Maxey also served as campaign manager for her father, a former State’s Attorney General, in 1980.
In addition to his love of theater, Maxey was well-known for his cooking skills.
“Gary was a kind, sweet, caring soul. He also made me laugh! He was a big supporter of The Great American Soup Off,” said Suzanne Puckett, former owner of Royall’s, who began the tradition of a soup cook off benefiting charity. “I’m pretty sure he entered every year and won the first year. He loved to cook! He made a Facebook group called Soup Heads to share great soup recipes. I also worked with Gary on the Tri County Citizens board to save the Reeves.”
“We always had great conversations about Alexa. He was one proud Dad,” added Puckett.
“Gary was a dear friend, great cook, and superb actor,” said Judy Deck. “When Foothills Theatre staged Tennessee Williams’ ‘Cat On A Hot Tin Roof,’ he played Big Daddy and I played Big Mama, and what fun we had. He embodied the character and was completely believable. A great actor makes you forget the person and see the character, and Gary was a great actor. We did so many plays together and it was a treat each time. Several years ago he used his acting talents at our church in the Good Friday service, making that experience deeply moving and meaningful.
“His culinary skills were exemplary,” Deck added. “We often got together backstage and talked food, restaurants, recipes, and all things gustatory. He and I competed in our church’s Chili Cook-Off and what a great rivalry that was!”
Funny, kind and compassionate are the words that Rotarian Ann Ashman used to describe Maxey. Maxey was a past president of the organization.
“He was a vital part of Rotary for many years and he brought laughter to the group, and not just light laughter, it was belly laughs on a regular basis. He was just an extraordinary man that I know we will all miss,” she said.
Making people laugh is something Maxey loved, said Alexa on her Facebook page.
“Although that is difficult to do right now, I know his final wish would be that we return to laughing soon,” she said.
Maxey’s wife, Linda, said she knows that her husband would be thrilled to see his friends gather to enjoy a drink and share happy memories.
A celebration of life gathering is to be held at the Reeves Theater on Wednesday from 6 to 8 p.m. Friends are asked to bring photos if they wish and will have the chance to share memories of Maxey.
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter @RippleReporterK.