CHICAGO (CBS) — Homer C. Gary works the room on the 12th floor of the Chicago Housing Authority offices. He looks around to see family, friends and colleagues who are gathering before a special ceremony commemorating his upcoming retirement.
“This is my celebration for 51 years of service. 51 years,” said Homer C. Gary in disbelief.
Gary moved to Chicago from Alabama in 1964, after serving in the military in Germany. He joined CHA back in 1966.
“My first job was at Cabrini Green. I learned about CHA when I had just come to Chicago during the 60’s. I taught social studies and music for a couple of years before I came to CHA,” he said.
On Nov. 1, he will retire after 51 years of service.
Throughout those years, Gary has worked in three departments. He served as a Management Aide, a Building Inspector and a Building Inspector Supervisor. He leaves as a Relocation Specialist in the Resident Services division. He also worked in Cabrini Green in the 1970s.
“I was a community tenant relations aide, kinda like a social worker. Cabrini Green has changed so much,” he said. “When I first started, there were mice, rats, water all over the place, elevator problems, but then five, six years later, things got better. That was a great transformation by the CHA.”
As the agency’s longest-serving employee, he said he has seen a lot of changes over the years, but the best part of his job, he said, is helping people.
“I miss the families there, they taught me a lot. I learned a lot from them. I just listened a lot. I touched some lives but they touched my life,” he recalls.
“Homer was the first person I met when I came to CHA in 1971. He started showing me the ropes. I’m honored that he outlasted me,” laughed Gloria Seabrook, CHA, retired.
Gary was presented with his own framed CHA shirt with “Retired 51 Years of Service” embroidered on the front.
“On behalf of all of us, thank you for your teammate. As a mentor, I thank you for your support and guidance. You’ve seen many seasons in your career, but today we are honoring and celebrating your new season, retirement,” said Bryce White, Director at Chicago Housing Authority.
“It’s odd to be the longest-serving employee at the CHA,” Gary laughed.
WBBM: Did you ever believe when you started you’d stay for 51 years?
“You know I really didn’t think that. I thought I probably would go elsewhere but after 10 years, I started liking it more and more and became content and decided to stay with it,” Gary said.
Gary said his retirement is bittersweet, but he said there are a few things he won’t miss.
“It feels great, but I won’t miss setting the alarm clock, I won’t miss having to catch the train in the morning. Those are things I won’t miss,” he laughed.
Gary was honored before family, friends and colleagues. His last day on the job will be Wednesday. He said he plans to travel and spend time with his wife, Yvette and his daughter, Celeste.
“I have no regrets. CHA has been very good to me. If I could do it all over again, I would,” he said.