By Margaret High
Jimmy Garrell smiled into the ESPN camera in Phoenix, Ariz., as he danced with UNC cheerleaders before the 2017 Final Four basketball game. Garrell wore Carolina blue pants, a Carolina blue button down and a Carolina blue fedora while his UNC class of 1958 ring glinted on his finger.
At 81 years old, he was smiling and sharing joy, just like he always had.
The Tabor City native, best known for his love of Carolina and love for spreading smiles, died Sunday night at the Grand Strand Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
Jimmy G, as he was widely known, had 10 Time Saver and Cash & Dash stores in Columbus and Horry counties, as well as one ABC store. He also continued to operate Yam City Oil Company.
Garrell is the son of the late Alton and Doris Woodard Garrell of Tabor City.
“I don’t think he spoke at any event where he didn’t talk about the Tar Heels and give a smile away every day,” said Cynthia Nelson, executive vice president of Tabor City Chamber of Commerce.
He received numerous awards throughout his life that highlighted his achievements for Tabor City and the county. Those awards include recognition from the North Carolina General Assembly in 2007 to honor his lifetime of distinguished service to the town of Tabor City, an Outstanding Citizen of the Year award from the Tabor City Chamber of Commerce and an Exemplary Service award from the Tabor City Chamber of Commerce.
Garrell served on the Tabor City Committee of 100 for many years and presided over the committee for the past 10 years.
He was honored by the Southeastern Community College Foundation and was on the board of trustees.
“He never said no. He always contributed something,” Nelson said. “He approached everything as if it were as simple as the other. He loved Tabor City and was very supportive of the chamber and any other civic endeavor.”
The Tabor City Yam Festival parade could always count on Garrell entering his car, Nelson said. He would famously get out the car and start shagging in the road.
“He just liked shagging in general,” Nelson said. “He might think he hit 80 but he could still cut a rug.”
It was his dance moves and devotion to the Tar Heels that got him recognized by ESPN in 2017. Garrell loved traveling to Myrtle Beach to shag with his wife, the former Martha Jo Hayes. He first learned to shag at Roberts Pavilion in Ocean Drive Beach.
Richard Dameron said he knew Garrell because he and his father, the late Doc Dameron, would always ride with Garrell to UNC games. Garrell rarely missed UNC home football or basketball games, and often travelled to away games.
Garrell was an avid supporter of the Rams Club as well as a donor to the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC.
“He shared his business success with others,” Dameron said. “His generosity did not only go to individuals but to worthwhile causes and institutions.”
Some of those causes include the benevolence fund for Tabor City Baptist Church, a local scholarship given to an outstanding student graduating from South Columbus High School, and serving on numerous boards of trustees or directors for various Columbus County and UNC organizations.
Garrell was a member of the Tabor City Rotary Club, the Sons of the American Revolution and the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, inducted in 2010.
“He never met a stranger,” Dameron said. “He loved people, he loved doing business. He loved his community.”
Garrell was featured in a national magazine, Retail Merchandiser, in 2016. The article was titled, “Give a smile away every day,” a trademarked slogan Garrell was known for.
He’d remind everyone who stopped to talk to him to do just that: give a smile away every day, Nelson said. She added he and wife both lived that saying.
“He is a Tabor City icon and he will not be replaced,” Nelson said. “There is only one Jimmy G.”
Services will be Wednesday, June 13 at 3 p.m. at Tabor City Baptist Church. (See obituary on this site for full details).