Gary Roland Dalton
15 July, 1942 – 30 April, 2021
Gary Dalton was a Maniac (that’s what you call someone who was born in Maine, right?). Born July 15, 1942, he was the only child of Roland Morris and Myra Charlotte (Tweedie) Dalton. His was a fairly typical childhood – he had a beloved Cocker Spaniel named Patty and spent much of his time with his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Evelyn Tweedie. Evelyn owned, and Stanley trained and drove, standardbred racehorses. From an early age, Gary learned how to sit in the seat of a sulky and take the reins. It probably came as no surprise when he left high school early to join his grandfather in the racing business (after all, undiagnosed dyslexics probably weren’t very popular with teachers). Like his mentor, Gary became a skilled trainer and driver. Unlike his grandfather, Gary lacked a temper. For most of his life, Gary was slow to anger, or at least show it.
If you had written Gary off in 1959 when he left high school, it would have been because you didn’t know him. Gary was hard working, loyal, and smart. Not book smart, necessarily, but he knew a lot about many different subjects, and if he set his mind to learning a new skill, he was soon expert at it. He also consumed war documentaries and knew as much about military history as some historians. If Gary said he would do something, you could take it to the bank. He was usually the first in line to help someone else if he could.
Gary temporarily left the horse business to join the Army in 1964. Forecasting that the Vietnam War would soon demand his presence, Gary enlisted ahead of the draft so that he could pick his duty station (I told you he was smart). He selected Germany, became a tank commander, and earned the rank of Sargent. Gary’s time in Europe held fond memories for him; he particularly loved the landscape of southern Germany.
Upon his exit from the military, Gary returned to the horse business where he eventually met his first wife, Diane. He had one daughter, Jessie, who loved him fiercely, no matter how far away she lived. But that marriage was not to last and soon thereafter Gary met the true love of his life, Bonnie. Gary and Bonnie were married for 37 years and raised Bonnie’s daughter, Cecilia. When Jessie visited for the summer, the family of four would vacation together, heading to the beach or the mountains. But Gary and Bonnie had some of their best trips when the girls were grown and gone. Gary’s favorite trip was to Tennessee, where he caught some beautiful trout while fly fishing along the South Holston River.
One of the most beloved stories about Gary came from an interaction with Cecilia. When she was in high school, Gary had asked her to cut the lawn during the week. She did not. Gary did not get angry, and he didn’t ask her twice. Instead, come Friday evening, Gary sat back and watched as Cecilia showered, got dressed up, put on makeup, and blew out her 90s do. On Cecilia’s way out the door, Gary asked, “Where you going?” Cecilia said, “J.J. Whispers.” Gary said, “No you’re not. Not until you mow the lawn.” And that was his way. He didn’t yell or get angry, and he didn’t like to repeat himself. But he knew how to get his point across even better. (For the record, Cecilia mowed the lawn in record time that evening.)
Although he left the horse business in 1975, Gary was a cowboy at heart. Rain or shine, hot or cold, you could find Gary wearing a short-sleeve, snap-up Western shirt, Wrangler jeans, and a pair of pointed-toe cowboy boots. In later years, he frequently donned a favorite cowboy hat too. If Hollywood made a western movie, Gary had seen it. Gary finally got to see the “wild west” just before his 76th birthday, when he ventured to Montana and Wyoming (and the Buffalo Bill Cody Museum, of course). He wasn’t able to climb on a horse and ride off into the sunset, but he did get a horse-drawn buggy ride outside of Yellowstone.
Gary was also a passionate craftsman and hobbyist. Over the years, Gary was a muscle-car and drag-racing enthusiast, a nature photographer, a bass and fly fisherman, a gun leather craftsman and saddle fixer-upper, a skeet shooter, and a Range Safety Officer. But nothing kept and held his attention like woodworking. For years, Gary and Bonnie attended craft shows selling Gary’s wooden art. He crafted boxes with hidden drawers and turned bowls on his lathe. He even won Best of Show for a uniquely original box that used negative space from box fronts as the box base. Gary always had a barn full of machinery and tools behind his home, and even after spending all day building furniture (the career he would maintain for most of his life), he would still come home and play in his shop. And it seemed there was nothing that Gary couldn’t build: from a delicate piece of scroll saw art, to a bookcase, to full playground for his granddaughters, if it was made from wood, Gary could probably build it. The only “toy” he never got to own was a portable sawmill, something he obsessed about having at a time that he wouldn’t have been strong enough to use it. Aside from that one possession, Bonnie indulged every whim or hobby Gary ever undertook. She planned bird outings for his photography and vacations around his fishing, she attended drag races, spent her Friday nights shopping for toy cars, sat through all kinds of weather at countless craft shows, joined a Corvette club and a gun range, and generally allowed his talents and passions to shine.
When Gary retired from furniture building in the late-1990s it was to care for his ailing mother. For several years, Gary dutifully attended to her needs as her mind regressed due to dementia. This was not the most exciting past time for Gary, so he busied himself with other tasks. Primary among those tasks was squirrel hunting, as his mother’s property was overrun with “rats with tails.” He quickly found that shooting baited squirrels held little sport, however, so Gary trapped them in a bird cage, hit them with spray paint, and then released them. The spray paint allowed him to see the squirrels way up in the canopy, giving both the hunter and the hunted a sporting chance. Gary continued his squirrel hunting at his Sanford home, but later moved on to lizards when Bonnie complained that the invasive anoles were eating the native fauna. He even rigged his riding lawnmower with a mount so that any time he spotted a target in the yard he could aim steady. To hear him tell it, he shot thousands of lizards and never missed.
Guns actually held a great fascination for Gary in the last two decades of his life. When he joined a gun range, he quickly became the keeper of Five Stand, and made sure the area stayed in top working order (but sometimes oddly decorated). He had a friend who became paralyzed working as a stunt double and couldn’t easily access the Five Stand range. So Gary built him a wooden platform on wheels that hooked behind the range’s riding lawn mower, allowing Gary to take his friend out to shoot. Gary also made beautifully crafted leather gun holsters. He would lace white or red stitching onto black leather, for striking pieces. Later in life, Gary made his most unique holster, and this one wasn’t as popular. He mounted a handle to his cell phone and carried it in a holster like a side arm. He freaked out countless people who thought the old cowboy really was carrying in plain sight. Gary thought it was hilarious.
Gary had only one real vice, and that was smoking. (Unless you consider his harmless flirtations with every waitress he ever met a vice.) He started at age 15 and was never willing to kick the habit. In 1993 he suffered “the big one,” and was lucky to survive. But thanks to the care of excellent doctors, Gary lived 27 more years. In that time, he was able to move with Bonnie to a house on a lake, walk his daughter down the aisle, and see the birth of his four granddaughters. In later years, when the white matter disease from smoking began to color his personality and his family drug him to a neuropsychologist for diagnosis, Gary was famous for saying, “I am crazy, and I have papers to prove it!” He also like to recite Billy Joel, “But it just may be a lunatic you’re looking for.” Gary was a jokester and quick to laugh, and he always wanted you to laugh along with him. He wanted to leave people with a good taste in their mouths and think that they were better for having met him. He also wanted you to think he looked just like Matthew McConaughey.
When Gary received his stage IV cancer diagnosis in December 2020, he did something truly unique: he insisted on having his Celebration of Life while he was still alive. On New Year’s Day 2021, friends and family surrounded Gary in a western saloon stocked with race cars to celebrate him. He got to hear people’s favorite memories and sign autographs on the back of woodworking pieces he gave away that day. Because Gary always went out of his way to help others and make them laugh, it was only right that he got to hear their gratitude in person.
A few months later, he was gone. Gary left us on Arbor Day, a fitting day for a man who lived his life around wood (even if he did enjoy the occasional tree felling). Here’s hoping that Heaven has beautiful horses, a portable sawmill, lizards to shoot (leave the squirrels alone!), and Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” playing on repeat. Know that we are all better people for having loved you and been loved by you.
Gary Roland Dalton July 15, 1942 – April 30, 2021 Rest in Peace, Cowboy
Survived by his wife, Bonnie Lee (Strosnider) Dalton; daughter, Jessie Leigh (Dalton) Harrell and her husband, William Holt Harrell; step-daughter, Cecilia Renee (Charbonneau) Neely and her husband, Robert Mark Neely; granddaughters, Morgan Elizabeth and Samantha Nicole Harrell; step-granddaughters, Margaret Grace and Abigail Rose Neely.
No public services are scheduled at this time. Receive a notification when services are updated.
Gary Roland Dalton
5 May 2021
I am chocking back tears writing this. I knew Gary Dalton for almost 20 years. He was my hero and a father figure to me. I lost my father when i was 19 and Gary filled that void for me. We would sit around and tell jokes and stories. We watched some westerns together and I always told him he reminds me of Clint Eastwood. He taught me many great lessons every man should know. He taught me about honor, respect and hard work. One lesson I hold dear is how to be a great father to a daughter. You see, I have never seen a man love his daughter so much. He gushed about her every chance he got. The only time I ever saw him tear up was one of the last times he would see her. If you knew Gary, you knew he didn’t tear up. This was one tough man. Gary Dalton taught me a lot about how a man should act. I will cherish every moment I had with him until the day I die. Gary Dalton was my friend and Dad.
Meet you at the pass, cowboy.
4 May 2021
Miss you today and everyday. Will see you again some day. ❤️