Sometime in the golden years of the Motown era, a young Gary Beck is listening to The Big 8 CKLW AM wafting across Lake Erie from Windsor, Ontario Canada to his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. CKLW was about as good as it could get for radio listening and Gary reminisces about the great songs that The Big 8 made popular to the world. His smile as he recollects those iconic tunes has a telling glint to it that speaks to a lifetime of enjoying life and making the most of the opportunities that have made up the soundtrack of his life.
Toledo gave Gary some solid footings from which to build upon. It was there that he enjoyed his time as a student, discovering and developing his talent as a writer, participating as a performer and finding his future career and passion as a floriculturist. There was no question in Gary’s mind that horticulture and in particular flowers were what he wanted to study. His parents were supportive and invited him to choose a university to attend. Desiring to move beyond Ohio Gary chose a few institutions but ultimately bowed to his mother’s wish that he stay somewhat close to home and attended Michigan State University. In what had become and remains typical fashion, Gary excelled in his studies to achieve a high level of respect from his peers and professors at MSU. With the ability to analyze detail and data and the passion to create and perfect, Gary walked through open door after open door at MSU and received a Masters Degree while working in the research greenhouses, a position created for him. All was well but both Gary’s own desire to find his life amongst the flora of the world and Mother Nature had other ideas. East Lansing, Michigan, the home of MSU is in a unique geographic position, nestled in the middle of the Great Lakes and therefore the recipient of just about every snow storm possible, every winter. Growing up in Toledo meant that Gary was used to moderate winters; the effect of Lake Erie pushing the storms north and south. East Lansing’s definition of a moderate winter made Gary feel more like he had chosen a northern Canada school in the arctic tundra! Having spent much of his time in the warm MSU greenhouses helped to remind Gary of his heart’s desire that California should be his home. Moments after receiving his Masters and with his mother’s blessing at last, Gary and a group of friends stepped off of their secure Northeastern USA foundations and made for the coast.
In the greenhouses, Gary had practised the art of plant hybridization, the process of creating new varieties from already established plants. While learning and perfecting the craft, either purposefully or perhaps by osmosis, Gary was also becoming a hybrid of himself. Now in California, Gary was presented with the burgeoning arts culture of San Francisco while in search of greenhouses for work. Instead of moving directly to the central valley and the home of the seed companies who could best utilize his skills, Gary took time to absorb the art and environment of Haight-Ashbury scene and Buena Vista Park concerts adding this to his character. It was therefore a difficult choice to accept a job offer forwarded by one of his MSU professors that involved shifting inland to the central valley. Mother Nature, again seeming to
enjoy a little fun at Gary’s expense, offered up a gorgeous, sunny, clear and warm day for Gary to travel to his new potential workspace, which he immediately adored. Sadly, that day was an anomaly for the area but Gary, always looking for the silver lining (is there a silver lining in the central valley fog?) threw himself into the new position and soon found a name for himself, and also a large number of African Violet hybrids, in the job. Gary became a fixture in the African Violet community, a member of the African Violet Society of America and regular contributor to their magazine as well as judge and participant at shows. Never one to do anything halfway, Gary excelled in the greenhouse much like his well pampered violets, but a gruelling schedule of hours and a smaller than hoped for paycheck found him back in San Francisco and the next part of his personal composition.
From this point Gary began to hit his stride as a connoisseur of good food, wine, theatre and living, incorporating all of the above in his persona. He worked as a waiter, starting out a complete beginner and finding his way to being one of the most well known wine buyers in the region. Always appreciating the opportunity before him, Gary seized each experience with gusto and in so doing provided for himself a wide open road to travel upon. And travel he did
to Puerto Vallarta with his then roommate who prophetically stated to him on arrival in 1979 at the Molina de Agua, “You’re gonna love this place.” Years of visiting his second home followed and Gary, in his regular fashion found himself collecting and sharing information so that others could share his enjoyment. Gary founded an online group, began reviewing restaurants and theatre and in so doing ensconced himself in the Puerto Vallarta culture. Now living in Mexico full time, it is hard to have an extended conversation with Gary on the street in the Romantic Zone without the pleasant interruptions of friends and acquaintances who see him. Gary’s broad smile and welcome are shared with each who stop by and it is clear that Gary has, as deliberately as creating a new and more elegant violet, decided that his life will be one of constant enjoyment and regular improvement.
As we draw our meeting to a close, I am struck by the idea that during our time together, Gary has been carefully and kindly applying his mastery of hybridization to Teri and I. We part ways now with a new friend who has graciously opened the door to his network and placed us therein for everyone’s betterment. What a wonderful way to share and what a wonderful life he is living. Thank you Gary, for adding to our lives and those that you enhance each day.
PS – Special thanks to the good folks at Salud Super Foods who graciously waited on us and provided a fantastic breakfast for us while we talked with Gary.