Friday, December 20, 2013

A father, a Son, and a Grand Prix

Randy Gearhart with his Pontiac Grand Prix on the day he graduated from Northern in 1968. He used to cruise through the Clio Road Arby's and the A & W. "I guess that a good many of the miles on this car were 'Clio Road Crusin’ Miles,'" he says.

Randy Gearhart may live in Georgia now, but he is definitely a “Flint guy.” He lived at 2314 Ohio Street, a few blocks from the A.C., before moving to 2913 Mallery Street, just off Ballenger. He went to Washington Elementary and Longfellow before graduating from Northern in 1968. He was home from college in the summer of 1969 working at A.M. Davison’s when he met his future wife, Debbi Reburn, across the street in the Carriage Room at Smith B’s. She worked the counter where he often went for lunch or a Tall Texan, more commonly known as a chocolate soda.

Even his name sounds like Flint.

Randy has a story to tell about his father and growing up in The Vehicle City. It was originally posted on Flint Expatriates on August 14, 2008.

My dad, Robert Gearhart, was superintendent of labor relations at Fisher Body Plant #2. In late November, 1964, he told me that I could pick out our family’s next car. It would be replacing our 1962 Chevrolet Impala.

Wow! Really? I had just turned 14 a couple months earlier. What a responsibility. What an honor.

I started looking through our most recent issues of Look and Life to see the new season’s offerings. Turning the magazine pages, I suddenly stopped. There she was. I had to look no further. The Pontiac Grand Prix.

The original magazine advertisement that caught Randy's eye.

I told dad that this was the car I wanted us to get. We got in our Applegate Chevy and rode over to Superior Pontiac/Cadillac on Dort Highway. Dad put in the order. A few weeks later, we got “the call” that our new car was ready for pick up.
One week after we took delivery of our new Grand Prix, on a gray December day, my dad suffered a heart attack. He died in the hall outside his office at Fisher Body.

He was only 40.

He had purchased an insurance policy that would pay off the car in case of his death. That was a good thing. But, that shiny, new, paid-off Pontiac became so much more than just a car to me. It was a connection to a man who loved his family and a dad who trusted a pimply-faced kid to make one of the most important purchase decisions a family can make.

The older I get, the more that act of trust means to me.

Thanks, Dad.


  1. Thanks for sharing my story, Gordon.

    I appreciate your "labor of love" for Flint--a city that still lives large in my heart and mind. I treasure special moments from another time and space when I recall a place called, "Flint."

    Thanks for keeping the memories alive!

    Randy "you're not from around here, are you, boy?" Gearhart

  2. Randy,

    I went to Washington Elementary School the same time you did, assuming that if you graduated in '68 we were classmates.

    I lived at 1610 and then 1613 Maplewood Street, right around the corner from Ohio. We were certainly neighbors. I hung out with Bori Knizner and Vicki Van Slyke (a year younger) when I was a little kid.

    I went to Whittier Jr. High, but after my dad died in '65, my mom moved us to Fenton.

    I remember Rene Martin, Torrey Van Slyke, Jerry Greenberg, Marvin Siegal, Randi Katz, Dick Smith, Allan... can't remember Alan's last name... Kenny - Kenny was into dinosaurs in 5th grade. Becky Pollard. Who else? Sherry Welsh. Barbara Higgenbottem.

    My name? Corinne Blackford, aka Corky, if you knew me after I got back from Girl Scout camp in 5th grade. I was the geeky kid.

    My dad was a tool & die man at Fisher I for 18 years.

    Flint shaped me in ways that I didn't start to appreciate until much later in life. Glad to see you're still around.

    1. I went to Washington a little later than you both but do you remember any teachers? I had some that were up there in years when I was there... Mrs. Timm, Mrs. Bonner, Mr Tidball ring a bell at all? Great teachers I still have vivid memories of them at that school.

    2. Great story about your Dad! We need more fathers like that.

  3. What a moving story, Randy; thanks for sharing it. And look at that car - it's all metal!!! Regarding your comment on BR's "unlikely alliance," I wonder if that's the same John Freeman I used to be acquainted with; the way you describe him is just what I would expect. The person I am thinking of served in Vietnam, too.

    CB - your last sentence about Flint shaping you in ways you didn't appreciate until later is exactly my experience. And my dad also worked in tool & die, but at the Chevy V8 plant, for 30 years!

  4. oh, this is great!

    Seeing you, Randy, in your NHS graduation gown with your Grand Prix touches off a torrent of memories for me.

    After finding flintexpats about a month ago, establishing that Gordy was my next door neighbor in the 70's, launching into a flurry of email with him; then his post of our family home on Bassett Place, at auction on e-bay, and now....reading your lovely story, and recalling our friendship inside and outside the halls of Northern High, in the late 1960's ......including our cruises on the Clio Rd. drag- specifically "the Rat" (our reference to Burger King) and A&W.....(I was either in my dad's "classic" ride, the Marlin, or Lois' little blue Buick "Special".............)
    drives home the value of this 'thing' Gordy has created for all of us who can't quite get Flint out of our blood. The connections made fill a void I barely knew existed a month ago.

    (and no, Mrs. Helen Decker did NOT teach me to write that run-on mess above)

    Thanks for your sweet story.. from that other, intangible time-of which I feel a part.

    and thanks, Gordy. You're at the epicenter of something BIG!

    Darcy B

  5. Oh, my, had to bring Mrs. Decker into this. Thanks a lot! I'm having a flashback here.


    I sat in the middle of her classroom at Northern--right in front of Mrs. Decker's desk, a row or two from the front.

    One day-dreaming day, I was jolted back to reality with these words, "Randy Gearhart, come back! Come back!" I came back.

    Teacher's words are powerful things--yes, they are! They can mold a life forever--instilling confidence and encouraging success. And I shall never forget the day Mrs. Decker asked me THE question that helped me become the man I am today..."Randy Gearhart, how did YOU get into the National Honor Society?"

    She had good reason to wonder, since I was a solid "C" student while in her care. But, once you figured in the "A" in band, the "A" in marching band, and the "A" in orchestra...well, you get the picture.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the story, Darcy.

    Grace and peace,


  6. I LOVED this article the first time I read it. It speaks of a beautiful love and devotion between a father and a son. It tells of a special man that, has a heart of gold. I am very proud to say I "KNOW" Randy, went to school with him and with the magic of the internet have reconnected with him recently. He and his wife are RICH-- with love and share a beautiful life together. Who said nothing great came from Flint?


  7. "Thanks so much, Karen," he typed, with a tear in his eye.

  8. Nice story Randy. It's a shame your Dad died so young. I appreciate that you love Flint, because so many have turned their backs on her. I went to Longfellow with you my name is Chris Balog. Great to hear from you.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at