Into his 88th year of life, Hervey Gilliland has shown time and time again the power of gratitude and appreciation.
“I’ve had a wonderful and a full life,” Gilliland said. “All my life I’ve been so blessed. I’ve been fortunate to always be able to get a job.”
His first job was working for his father.
“I started out as a shoeshine boy for my dad’s barber shop,” he said. “They gave me all my supplies and I got to keep the money. I had to clean and stock the shop and make sure the barbers always had what they needed. A good week I could make $15. I was 11 years old, so it was about 1940.”
This job taught him the importance of presentation.
“I learned early that the more I popped that rag the more tips I could get,” Gilliland said. “I had a portable shoeshine stand and could do their shoes or boots while they were getting their hair cut. This was in Guymon, Oklahoma.”
In junior high, he got a job as a soda clerk at the drug store downtown.
“I remember the cosmetics lady made me a bet,” Gilliland said, “that she could tell me every day what shake I would make. I would put different flavors in it and she said she could tell ’em all. If she got it right I would pay for the milkshake, but if she missed one she had to pay. Every day after school I’d put in all the different flavors, we’d split the milkshake, and doggone if she didn’t get it right every time.”
He wasn’t one to stay fooled, however.
“Then I noticed that she had a big mirror on the other side of the room,” Gilliland laughed. “She could see every place I went to and every flavor I used. I told her we’d have to make a different arrangement after that.”
He did other work through his high school years. College was very much a continuation of the process of work and school.
“I graduated in 1946 and went to college at Panhandle A&M College in Goodwell, Oklahoma, just 11 miles from home,” Gilliland said. “All the farmers would come into town every weekend and hire the students to work the farms doing whatever was needed. They paid good.”
Set to graduate in 1951, Gilliland felt the pull of the draft and of Korea.
“The Korean conflict had started by then,” he said. “I was in my senior year and decided I wasn’t going to wait to be drafted into the Army. I wanted the Air Force. So in December, I went to Oklahoma City to enlist. They took my name and I passed my physical, but they put me in class 52G because they were booked.”
His father was unhappy that he might not finish college. Fortunately, that was not the case.
“I went back to college,” he said. “I finished out my college year and got my degree in May. In June, they called me to go to San Antonio for basic training. I worked in intelligence.”
After his stint in the Air Force, Gilliland took temporary work with the Post Office before settling in with the company in which he would build his career.
I got out of the Air Force in June of ’54,” he said. “There was an opening in Amarillo to work for Southwestern Public Service Company. I started out reading meters. On my first day, Feb. 19, we had a rolling black dust storm come in. I could hardly see to read the meters. Then, I saw a company truck pulling up to where I was and I thought they were going to take me back. But the truck pulled up and the driver gave me a pair of goggles and a cap to wear and said he’d be back at 5 to pick me up.”
That job took him back home to meet the love of his life.
“My job with SPS got me back home to Guymon,” Gilliland said, “When I took the books to the bank, there was a young lady working there. I saw her and fell in love the moment I saw her. She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.”
Not one to be deterred, Gilliland devised a way to get her attention.
“She had to bring any returned checks back to my office,” he said. “She brought them in one day and as I took them I told her, ‘Thank you. We have a new policy. I need your name, address and telephone number.’ She looked at me funny and said that had never happened before. I told her, ‘It’s a new policy and I need the information.’
“That night I called her at home and said, ‘This is the new policy guy. I wondered if you’d like to go on a date tonight.’ She said yes. We married a little less than two years later.”
Marriage was good for Gilliland. Over the years he started volunteering and helping wherever he could.
“After three years I went back to Amarillo for a year,” he said. “I joined the new club there called the Kiwanis. Before I could start working with Kiwanis, I was transferred to Clovis as the chief clerk of accounting. I joined the Chamber of Commerce. I was on the board for the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, United Way and Rotary. I was in Clovis for 18 years and was named Rotarian of the year at one point.
“In ’76, they moved me from Clovis to Lubbock. There again I got into the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the United Way. I was on the board for the ballet and arts festival.”
Roswell was blessed with his family’s presence in the early 1980s.
“I transferred to Roswell in 1983 as personnel and safety director,” Gilliland said. “In 1984, I became district manager. I held that job until I retired in 1994. Over those years I was on the United Way board, the YMCA board, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. I joined the Red Coats in 1984.”
The Gillilands had planned to retire in Lubbock, but they fell in love with Roswell and decided to stay. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary here. Shortly after that tragedy struck.
“In ’08 we were on vacation and a big truck had two tires blow out at the same time,” he said. “It knocked us off the road and took the life of my wife. I took a while to heal up. My son made sure I didn’t have to worry.”
Even in remembrance of that tragedy Gilliland sought the memory of help, grace and blessing. When asked where he learned such a wise outlook, he credited his grandmother.
“I’ll never forget my grandmother Gilliland,” he said. “When I was about 10 or 12 we’d go up to visit her. As elderly and frail as she was, when we were leaving she would hug me until I’d lose all the wind in my chest. She would tell me, ‘I can’t begin to tell you that God loves you more than I can ever tell.’ And I believed her. I can feel that hug to this day. I know that I’m being watched and that she loves me, too.”
Features reporter Curtis M. Michaels can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.