Thaddeus Whittier Gay, Sr., proud WWII Army veteran, lifelong entrepreneur and last living family member from The Greatest Generation, passed away peacefully at the youthful age of 98 on Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at his granddaughter’s home in Pinehurst. 

Thaddeus was born on June 27, 1922 in the living room of his grandmother’s Richmond County home. He was the third born of William and Marvin (Leak) Gay’s eight children but was the last of his siblings to pass. The Gay family settled in the West Southern Pines area in the mid-1920s, where all the siblings attended the historic West Southern Pines “Rosenwald” School. Thaddeus graduated high school in the early 40’s as part of the first class that completed 12 years of high school education after the General Assembly changed from the traditional 11 years of education. Upon graduation, he briefly attended North Carolina A&T State University before enlisting in the US Army during the height of WWII. He served in New Guinea and the South Pacific, receiving the Asiatic Pacific Service Medal with a bronze service star, Good Conduct Medal and World War II Victory Medal. In 1944, after his honorable discharge, he attended the Engineering Drafting School at Camp Sutton. 

Thaddeus was a true entrepreneur from an early age, having opened a makeshift “neighborhood store” on the side of his house at the age of twelve. Having left his university pursuits behind to enlist, he returned to his entrepreneurial roots after completing his military service. A keen observer and a quick study, he used these skills to learn house painting and other trades. He would get work using skills he already had but would stick around on his own time to watch other tradespeople at work. He studied them, asked questions and even offered free assistance. Before long he would have a newly acquired skill that he could use and market. Against all odds, he became an entrepreneurial success running a house painting business and a printing business where he owned and operated his own printing press. He often discussed with his family how type setting is a lost skill and artform that fell victim to the digital age. He was proud that he created things with his own two hands—without the ease of cutting, pasting or spell-check.

As a consummate student of life, Thaddeus was always curious, always looking for new information to absorb and share with others. He always asked questions and read everything that he could get his hands on—including encyclopedias. He challenged those around him not to accept status quo, but to question the norm and then think of ways to improve upon it. He lived his life by the belief that one should leave this Earth better than it was when they arrived; that leaving a legacy of wealth for the future generations was paramount. Not just monetary wealth, but a wealth of knowledge and wisdom, a wealth of culture, a wealth of integrity and a wealth of pride in oneself and one’s community—so that they might grow and build upon this foundation to the benefit of those that come after them.

An industrialist to his core, Thaddeus designed several inventions for which he sought patents, but extended his resolve far beyond his own personal aspirations. He saw opportunities and prospects within his community, envisioned a revitalized West Southern Pines and shared these dreams with the next generations. He could often be heard telling tales of yesteryear when residents created traditions, explored pathways to self-sufficiency (such as household or community farming), started businesses to fulfill their own community needs, and passed all of these endeavors down to their families. To this end, he fought to keep old traditions alive by participating in several community garden initiatives and by faithfully attending his weekly meeting with the Bid Whist Club. He also advocated tirelessly on behalf of many organizations, including the West Southern Pines Civic Club, the Rufus L. McLaughlin American Legion Post 177, the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust and as a lifetime member of the NAACP.

With an undeniable charisma and magnetic charm, Thaddeus loved gatherings of friends and family. He could always be found at the center of the action—especially if good food were involved. He could light up any room with his warm smile and contagious laughter and, given half the chance, would “show you how it was done” on the dance floor. In the hearts of all those whose lives he touched; the echoes of his joyous refrains will live on.

Thaddeus was preceded in passing by his parents, William and Marvin (Leak) Gay; wife, Mary Elizabeth (Dumas) Gay; sisters, Willie Eroshia and Orilla Mae; brothers, Curtis Alphonso (Sr.) (and wife, Ola), Marvin Fulton (and wife, Lila Mae), Benjamin Garner, James Ivan and Charles Thero; son Thaddeus Whittier (Jr.); son-in-law, Thomas Akaaer DeGarr; nephew, Curtis Alphonso (Jr.); niece, Juanita Brown Miller; great-grandson, James B. Miller (Jr.) and a host of others that will welcome him to his eternal Home.

He is survived by two daughters, Europa Gay of Riverdale, NY and Antoinette (Gay) Williams (and husband, Chris) of Lakeland, FL; a daughter-in-law, Karla Whitlock Gay of Reidsville, NC; a sister-in-law, Nena Gay of San Diego, CA; three nephews, Sacah (“Whittier”) Teeus of San Diego, CA, Pierre (“Bebe”) Alston (and wife, Mable Brunson-Alston) of Washington, D.C. and Charles (“Terry”) Gay of San Diego, CA; two grandchildren, Ariadne DeGarr (and husband, James B. Miller (Sr.)) of Pinehurst, NC and Katrina Brand Young of Richmond, VA; three great-grandchildren, Semaj Miller of Tobyhanna, PA, Christmas DeGarr-Miller of Pinehurst, NC and Aldyn Young of Richmond, VA; grandnieces and nephews, great-grandnieces and nephews and even great-great-grandnieces and nephews who will carry his love and his lessons with them always.

In addition to his immediate family tree, Thaddeus was blessed by a vast adopted family including a brother, Dwayne Stevenson; children, Arthur and Julie Birner of Aberdeen, NC; grandchildren Natasha Plair and Ramona Plair of Southern Pines, NC, Veronica Miller (and husband, David Çeja) of Astoria, NY, Jessica Thomas of Aberdeen, NC, Sgt. Michael Birner (and wife, Katherine) of Middletown, NY and Chelsea Birner of Aberdeen, NC; great-grandchildren, Iyanna Plair Baker and Dayanara Plair of Southern Pines, NC and Izaia Birner of Aberdeen, NC; his comrades and auxiliary from the Rufus L. McLaughlin American Legion Post 177; his partners in empowerment from the West Southern Pines Civic Club, his fellow masters of strategy and trash-talk from the Tuesday Bid Whist Club; his brothers and sisters in the struggle from the Moore County NAACP and a host of other extended family and friends that will cherish his memory.

Thaddeus’s family would like to thank Dr. S. Ogunwo, Tawana, Rhonda and all other specialists and team members that cared for him at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center through the years. A special thank you is also extended to the ER, Reid Heart Center and RHC 3rd Floor ICU, Home Health Care, Palliative Care and Home Hospice Care teams of FirstHealth Moore Regional.

Combined public viewing and military honor activities will be on Sat., Nov. 7th and will begin promptly at 11:00am outside of the Community Congregational Church in downtown Southern Pines. Activities to include a flyover by The Bandit Flight Team, and a “final march”/caravan parade down Pennsylvania Ave. to the Woodlawn Cemetery.

Services are entrusted to Powell Funeral Home. 

Online condolences may be made at


Public Viewing: November 7, 2020 11:00 am - 1:00 pm

Community Congregational Church
141 N Bennett Street
Southern Pines, NC 28387


View current weather.

Memories Timeline

Photo Gallery


  1. Mr. Gay is the the most honorable man West Southern Pines has known. He continued to serve his community long after protecting his country-seldom missing an American Legion meeting since 1959. Our WWII veteran will be missed but never forgotten. Our Post owes top honor to an outstanding veteran and a true American hero. Mr. Gay also provided a wealth of lifetime experience helping shape the Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust as one of the first graduates of the Rosenwald historic school. His legacy has inspired the West Southern Pines community to empower itself with plans to purchase the Souther Pines Primary School. His impact in the West Southern Pines community will be everlasting.
    Commander Pist 177 and chairman, Southern Pines Land and Housing Trust

  2. I was always fond of Mr. Gay, having known him only a couple of years. He had a beautiful spark for life, choosing to see the good in everything around him. It always warmed my heart seeing him walk into the Post. I will miss seeing him and hearing his witty comments.


  4. Mr. Gay was a great man that loved to help others, he loved his community and served as a volunteer for the Food Distribution Program for Sandhills Community Action Program. Mr. Gay would work hard to see that all of his neighbors that could not stand in the food line would received a bag. He will greatly be missed. Rest in peace my friend.

    Karen Thomas
    Sandhills Community Action Program, Inc.

  5. Prayers for his family and community over their great loss to this legacy man. He served this community with great vision with many others who joined his walk through his long life. He blessed and encouraged many. RIP, a you served with honors

  6. Mr. Gay,

    Was like West Southern Pines itself, solid as a rock! His desire was to always help others and in doing so it better the community and city. The fruits of his life show this: service to a nation and world, helping others by providing his skill sets, kind and powerful words. To the Gay family at large my the Holy Spirit comfort you during this period. From on soldier to another: Mr. Gay, see you on the high ground.

  7. Such an amazing writing of an amazing human being. How lucky we all are that Mr. Gay was on this earth. He has left his indelible mark on those that knew him and those that benefited from all he did! With much love from Kathy and Roger

  8. I did not have the honor of knowing this gentleman. It is obvious to me from reading his obituary that he lived a highly impactful life and left an incredibly positive mark upon countless others. I am sure that gentleman acquired many amazing stories to share, and I’m certain that he was deeply loved, respected, and now missed greatly. (Hugs!)

  9. So sorry I’m unable to be with my family at this time, but know that my heart and spirit are with you. Praying for your strength and peace of mind. Cousin Thad lived a long, beautiful life with lots of loving family members and friends around him. He will be missed. Thank you Thad for the wonderful memories. 💜💜💋💋🙏🏻🙏🏻

  10. I was sorry I could not attend the celebration of Mr. Gay’s impressive life. Just reading his obituary I was taken with all he did my – and did well. A large void but so many memories. My deepest sympathies to all he left behind.

  11. I was saddened to hear of the passing of Mr. Gay. He meant a lot to the Dowdy family on West Michigan Avenue near the clay hole. From my earliest years I became friends with Thad Jr., and the entire Gay family. As a teenager Mr. Gay taught me and Jr., the professional skill of house painting. After a couple of years when Thad Jr., decided he would work other forms of employment I continued working with Mr. Gay. We would take our lunches to work, ride in his blue van and listen to Paul Harvey for lunch. Mr. Gay was a humble and kind man. I will truly miss him. I am thankful for what he has done for me and what he did for others.

Sign the Guestbook, Light a Candle

Sign the Guestbook