Gary Mefford, also lovingly known as Ferd, made his last friendly holler to the world on Jan. 26, 2021, after a beautiful year in a dark time. A massive pulmonary embolism enveloped him that morning and most likely eliminated his pain instantly. They said that the arteries in his heart looked like those of a 25-year-old, a forever young soul, tough-as-nails, but couldn’t fight the hefty blood clot that found the unpatchable holes in his heart of a tragic past. He went fast and hard, the way he wanted.
A day without Ferd is a sad day indeed. He had the unique ability to make everyone around him feel special, always calling out to someone in the store or on the street, adding more syllables to the unique nickname only he called them and forcing even the most hard-bitten cowboy to smile.
God broke the mold when Gary was born on Oct. 27, 1952, to the late Ray Mefford and Rosalie Mefford (Stossel) in Powell. Being born to children of the Depression, the Meffords were the hardest of workers and pushed that work ethic onto Gary, who started working at their machine shop, Superior Machine, at the tender age of 10.
As the only boy of three beautiful Mefford children, Gary was also solely responsible for the family horses, which he was to feed and shoe and ride. When Ray would get a proposal to buy a new horse, he would only go forth with the purchase if Gary could ride it. Being thrown from a horse became a pastime for him, one that he would endure countless times, even to the point of breaking a collar bone, which he was left to “rub some dirt on it.”
His rough and rugged uncles, with their leathered skin and boney chins, would always tell him to cowboy-up, and their no-bullsh*t way of life would make a lasting impression on Gary, one that he fought to deny, but couldn’t discard.
His childhood was filled with memories of exploring the vast Absaroka-Beartooth wilderness, caring for the horses while his father hunted, fly fishing the great Clarks Fork River with nothing but a royal coachman. Always a royal coachman. His mother, Rose, would pan fry runny eggs and trout over a campfire for breakfast, a dish that to this day would make Ferd quiver in disgust.
He learned the ways of the wild and explored some of the rawest wilderness in the world, honing his horsemanship skills and ability to withstand and forge a strength that would carry him through his 68 years. As a teen, Gary found rebellion to be the freedom he was looking for, and whether he was going for a laugh or just the sheer abandon of authority, Gary pushed against the system, landing himself in the Park County jail enough times to find his suitcases thrown out on the doorstep while still in high school.
He was a stellar athlete, although he would tell you that his wife had more talent in her pinky finger than he did. His fondest memories were of baseball summers, playing second base with his best childhood friends, Jim (Florez) Reed, Perry (Per) Fisher and Mike (Rock) McRann, who together won the Wyoming state little league championships, at 12 years old. Later Gary would play slow pitch softball with a stellar crew of friends, like Roger (Dog) Dunn, Steve (Steee-veeee!) Prosinski, Kenny and Curtis Dugger, Dusty (Dust) Franklin, Rick Mitchell, Tim (Zipper) Lyons, Steve (Stevie) Roehr, Gary (Prof) Sturmer, Steve Urbanski, and Gene (Geno) Shuler. They took their families along, and while their children made beer tab pop-top necklaces and ate cigarette butts underneath the bleachers, they effortlessly dominated tournaments around the nation, as well as any beer drinking contests presented to them.
Gary led the Powell High School football team as captain, humbly speaking of how he was slower than the second coming of Christ, but dumb enough to throw his weight around (his words). A stout Ferd, thick with muscle and tight polyester pants, feverishly attempted to straighten his natural curls, because, you know, it was the 60s. He always had a thing for Debbie Dozah ... the statuesque dark haired, copper complexioned, hazel-eyed, homecoming queen. He finally got the guts to ask her out on a date, in which she would later say was the most boring date she’d ever been on. They dragged Main Street in Powell, in his 1964 Plymouth Belvedere listening to the one country radio station that came on in the evening out of Oklahoma. At the movie theatre, Debbie was mortified as Gary laughed and howled, his rumbling cackle echoing through the show house, a signature move he would carry on throughout his adult life while watching Looney Tunes by himself, uttering, “That coyote is NEVER gonna catch that damn roadrunner.”
As history tells, the Vietnam War was raging, and Ferd was unwillingly drafted into the United States Marine Corps, young, strong and stupid (again, his words). A former Marine herself, his mother, Rose, was beyond proud. A devastating experience of making best friends and losing best friends and unmentionable scarred memories left him detached and deeply pained by the ordeal, yet extremely proud to serve his country. As a silver lining to the war, he become a blackbelt in karate on the island of Okinawa, would later practice with his children, and became a red belt in Taekwondo. He would often kick over his kids’ heads while they tried to watch a movie just to piss them off and prove that he “still had it.” When asked to go back to Vietnam because his daughter had heard nothing but wonderful things of its beauty, Ferd simply replied with a deadpan declaration of “been-there, done-that.”
A proud Wyomingite, Gary attended the University of Wyoming with his hometown buddies and raised hell on the town of Laramie. He did the Buckhorn roll with Jim Kysar, smuggled steaks down their bellbottoms with Bo Brown and hosted many parties crashed by the UW wrestling team, who would vacate his refrigerator and beat each other up into the early campus mornings. “We’d get lunch the next day with the money that fell out of those heathens’ pockets into our couch cushions,” he would proudly say with a sparkle in his eyes. Despite all of the debauchery from this top 25 party school listed by Playboy magazine at the time (Ferd was very proud of that), he managed to find a great love for his studies, and also continued his machinist education that he began at Superior Machine.
He had dreams of grandeur, of travel and success, and graduated with honors with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Wyoming. As he was the top of his class in his field, he had offers to move to California to continue his training to be a sports physical therapist and dreamed of working for the Denver Broncos. But a brand-new baby born just days before his college graduation would lead him back to Powell, to the security of a job at his father’s machine shop that he coined The Silver Palace.
By his side was his new wife, the stunning Debbie Dozah, who finally relented and decided he was kind enough and funny enough to marry. (All jokes aside, she would never admit how much she truly adored him.)
They bought their first family home — a double-wide mobile home with complimentary tires on the roof — in the country outside of Powell, complete with a fresh water creek flowing behind and enough room for his horses, his baby girl, Kassidy, and his lovely bride. He was in heaven. Two years later they welcomed a bouncing baby boy (although Gary would ask in the delivery room if they would kindly put him back because, well, Paul’s crossed eyes and massive head led him to believe he needed to cook a little more.) Luckily Paul turned into a stunning little dude with chestnut skin and blonde curls, so tan in fact that they started telling him from a young age that they found him in a bar in Hawaii. Regardless, they were the perfect family unit, beautiful, active, grateful and happy.
The Silver Palace would become his passion, his world and eventually a bitter strain. He loved his clients, always promising and delivering to get things done as soon as possible even if it meant staying late at work, coming in on the weekend or getting that middle of the night call from a local farmer who needed an emergency weld so they could continue work at sunrise. Every day he returned home, that blue-collared shirt smeared with grease, a patch with Gary sewed into the breast, and his pocket protector, magic marker, tape measure and pencil tucked in tight. His thick brown framed glasses slid up his nose by his middle finger, and he would plop down on the couch in hopes for something to take his mind off of life for a while.
On the weekends, Gary savored his family camping and riding trips, braving the dirt gravel switchbacks of the Chief Joseph Highway, camper on top and horse trailer hitched behind with Debbie squealing at every terrifying yet familiar turn. They explored the wild as a family, just as he had done as a boy, riding deep into the wilderness through springtime rainstorms and Rocky Mountain rainbows and accidental moose encounters. Covered in dirt, fish on the line, cooking elk steak over a campfire, with the beer chilling in the river and sounds of the 60s coming from the truck — they lived like kings of their domain. He loved coaching baseball, running airport hill with his longtime partner in crime, Jim Kysar, doing triathlons with his exceptional wife, and cowboying and getting into trouble with the Terry boys. He adored watching his son dominate baseball, basketball, football and just about anything else Paul put a finger on, enduring the sweltering and sweaty swimming meets for his daughter and screaming at her to stop picking dandelions in the outfield during pitching machine, only to encourage her to try to cover the entire outfield during high school softball games. He lived for encouraging his children to be the best they could be and the kindest people they could be.
When his beautiful bride decided one day that she would become an EMT with the Powell Hospital, Gary immediately exclaimed that he would fulfill his dream of becoming a volunteer fireman. And so began an 18-year dedicated journey of saving lives, cultivating lifelong friendships and a camaraderie like no other. Many of Gary’s best friends became firemen too, and the firehall became the local watering hole for all of Powell’s finest.
They were thick as thieves and although narrowly missing death in a fireworks explosion, Mefford served that department with utmost loyalty, even as a reserve, until his untimely death. Long after retirement, Gary visited the firehall every day to chat with his fellow reserves and catch up on the daily babble. He was a staple of the fire department, almost as much as the oldest truck in the bay, and his lack of presence will surely be a noticeable void.
“I’ve worked there my entire life,” he said when finally deciding to retire and sell the machine shop in his 60s. Retirement didn’t go well for Gary as he spent his hours vacuuming the house multiple times a day in perfect rows and pacing the floor, humming tunes that were the same cadence over and over, like a record stuck on the hook of a song: “Chicken in a bread pan, pickin’ out dough... hmmm hmmm hmmm... chicken in a bread pan pickin’ out dough ...” This behavior deeply annoyed his most beloved yet fiery squaw who looked at him with her Grace Jones eyes and said, “you need to get a job.”
Consequently, Gary began driving senior citizens for the Powell Senior Center and found a new spark in life. For the first time in 40 years, he loved his job. He chatted with old veterans, flirted with the sparky silver-haired gals and held their arms as they loaded into the van. He proudly wore his hair net as he served them lunch and lovingly teased them. He brought sunshine to the girls in the kitchen every morning and they aptly took care of him with take-home meals. He would stay late to make sure every table was aligned properly in the dining hall and wipe down any surface, leaving no speck of dust behind. He always said, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”
In 2014, the Wyoming public transit association named him Driver of the Year, and he dragged his feet in humility all the way to Laramie to receive his award in an honorable ceremony.
Ferd was no stranger to tragedy: a tumultuous experience in Vietnam, losing his son Paul at age 22 to gun violence, his sister Melanie at age 47 to a motorcycle accident, and his beloved bride Debra Anne at 65 to lung cancer just two short years ago. A doctor’s question of “so when did you break your back?” let him know that his back had, in fact, been broken for years and that he wasn’t just getting old. Thus began decades of surgery, pain treatment and crushing agony that would cause him to plead daily “just shoot me” to anyone who would listen.
Emotionally, in the past two years, he could not bear to be without his beloved Debra Anne and physically, his debilitating back pain was a constant reminder of his mortality and rough cowboy past (which he would like to be known as a horseman here, in lieu of cowboy). As much as he loved teasing and seeing his coworkers at the center every day, he desperately wanted to retire, but he had worked his whole life since he was 10 years old, and he knew nothing else. His time had come.
In all his years, his favorite things to do were explore the wild Wyoming wilderness on horseback with his beloved “Anne,” watch his kids play sports and visit them in all corners of the world, build up and show off his abdominals, speed walk the streets of his hometown, visit Blair’s and spend the hours just chatting with people, snuggle his horses, watch Powell Panther and UW football games, walk his dogs, fly-fish the North Fork with his son-in-law and cry over missing the big one, hunt or just scope elk with his buddies, make big “Slum Gumbo” breakfasts that took two hours to cook, tell old glory days stories with his fellow firemen and just about whoever would listen, figure out what was for “supper” at breakfast time, and bear-hug, read-to and arm wrestle his “grand studs,” as he so lovingly called them, until they fell asleep in his arms in the chair that he spent every night in for the last six years.
There is great peace knowing that his pain has vanished, that he can run again, embrace his son, and eternally ride horses through the great Wyoming wild with his beloved bride, encompassed by all the love and laughter in the universe.
Left to carry on his self-pronounced horrible “Mefford luck” and Ferdisms of lore like “I’ve got money, all I need is friends” and “sh*t happens when you party naked,” which his oldest grandson proudly announces when there’s a problem, is his one and only daughter, Kassidy (Swadnicks) Love (Benny) of San Pancho, Nayarit, Mexico, and his honorary son, Dennis (D Monster) Sullivan (Megan) of Santa Ana, California. He relished his role of Ompah to his two grandsons, Maverick Paul and Indio Gunnison Love (both known as Boo Man Chu), and hoped that they give it their best whether they are a lineman for the Wyoming Cowboys or the piccolo player in the band. Left with decades of fond and colorful memories, is his older sister Linda (Babushka) Jones (Kenny) of Bellingham, Washington; his sister-in law, Denise (Deedo) Dozah (Maureen); and his nieces and nephews who adored their Uncle Gary, Brandi (bungeomatic) Glover, Ryan (Maynard) Burt, Kendi (Toots) Lehman, and Justin (Buster) Burt.
No flowers, please, unless they can be planted in Debbie’s summertime flower garden. The family is seeking donations to offset the expense of publishing an exceedingly long obituary, which would have really pissed off Gary, but not as much as asking for donations would have. But in all seriousness, we have money ... all we need is friends, so please DO NOT send funds. Instead, go hug your family, play a joke on your co-worker, pet a dog, or nuzzle a horse and have a sip of vodka in Ferd’s memory. Share his stories for as long as you still have your teeth.
A celebration of his life will be held at the Powell Fire Department on Thursday, Feb. 4, at noon. It will be outside to make sure everyone has to cowboy up but mostly to prevent the spread of Covid, especially to my father’s beloved seniors, who are most vulnerable.
There will be a few outdoor heaters provided, but please dress warm, wear a mask and bring a blanket. Cowboy hats and coveralls are welcome. There will be no food services provided as Ferd loathed eating in public and especially watching people eat with their hats on. There will be music, coffee, stories and laughter and we welcome anyone to share a story of Ferd, appropriate or inappropriate as it may be. If you’d like to publicly or privately share a memory of him, please email me at Kassidymefford@gmail.com, and please take care of yourselves.