Joe Gardner, 77, died surrounded by his family on Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021, at Deerfield Ridge Assisted Living in Boone.
The only child of Rhea and Hilda Gardner, Joe was born in Lynchburg, Va., on Christmas Day 1943. He graduated from Wilkes Central High School in 1962, attended Appalachian State University and graduated in December 1966 from National Business College in Roanoke, Va. He married his high school sweetheart, Dawn Lovette Gardner of North Wilkesboro, on June 26, 1964.
Joe went to work for Holly Farms Poultry in December 1966 as a management program trainee, learning the poultry business from the ground up. During his career, he managed Holly Farms processing plants or complexes in Temperanceville, Va.; Richmond; Monroe; and Wilkesboro, ultimately rising to Vice President of Plant Operations and serving on the company’s Board of Directors. After Holly Farms was sold to Tyson, Joe left in 2001 and continued working in the poultry industry for ConAgra, Bell & Evans, Pilgrim’s Pride and Mountaire Farms until his retirement in 2010. He was known as a demanding but caring mentor to many younger managers who have gone on to great success in the poultry industry.
Joe loved golf, Willie Nelson, gin and tonics, well-cooked steaks (“on the rare side of medium rare”) and a good dirty joke. He told great stories, was a master of creative profanity and laughed loudly and often. Joe personified “gruff but lovable” and wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers when he needed to (and sometimes when he didn’t). But mostly he was caring, loyal and generous to a fault. Joe and Dawn were best friends throughout their 54-year marriage, calling each other several times a day just to talk. He was a tough but loving and protective father to Kristen and Jody, and taught them by example the importance of hard work and integrity, and that it’s always a good time to have a little fun. He adored his grandchildren, evidenced by the fact that he regularly let his granddaughter Kate paint his toenails bright pink when she was small. He always let his grandson Joe drive the cart on golf outings, and played endless giggly games of hide-and-seek with grandsons Finn and Atticus.
Vascular dementia and Alzheimer’s began to take Joe away from his family 10 years ago. He bore it with courage, dignity and grace to the end. He was much loved and will be deeply missed.
Joe is survived by his wife, Dawn, of Wilkesboro; daughter, Kristen Lingo and husband, Will, of Raleigh; son, Jody Gardner and wife Amy of Fleetwood; and four grandchildren, Joe Lingo, Kate Lingo, Finn Gardner and Atticus Gardner.
There will be no immediate memorial service for Joe due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The family plans to celebrate his life at a future service once it is safe to do so.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to The Health Foundation, 1902 W. Park Drive, North Wilkesboro, N.C., 28659, or to Medi Home Health and Hospice-Watauga, 400 Shadowline Drive, Suite 205, Boone, N.C., 28607.
The family offers heartfelt thanks and gratitude to the staffs of Deerfield Ridge Assisted Living and Medi Home Health and Hospice for their kindness and loving care of Joe.
Miller Funeral Service is in charge of the arrangements. Online condolences may be made to www.miller