Albert Gus Stevens patrolled the streets of downtown Cary for several decades, looking to lend a helping hand or say a warm “hello” to anyone he met along the way.
While the 90-year-old Stevens, known as Gus, never thought of himself as unique, local merchants, friends and family members remember his kind heart, friendly demeanor and unmatched love for downtown Cary.
“Gus was probably one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet,” Cary Police Chief Tony Godwin said. “He was just kind and very gentle, and just truly had a passion for downtown Cary and wanting to keep it clean and safe.”
Since he died from cancer Aug. 30, his favorite bench next to the West Chatham Street entrance of Ashworth Village has become a memorial for him. Friends have laid wreaths of flowers in his memory, and even a Mountain Dew.
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Throughout Stevens’s life, he was known for keeping a close eye on the downtown area, particularly along West Chatham and surrounding streets. Since the late 1970s, he visited the area twice a day for several hours at a time with a scanner and cell phone, ready to help whenever and wherever needed.
“He lived very closely, and he would walk up here pretty much every day,” said Paul Ashworth, co-owner of Ashworth Drugs on Chatham Street. “Rain or shine, or hot or freezing cold, he was always up here.”
This dedication garnered the respect of Cary’s first responders, who often gave him him one of their badges upon their retirements. Former Police Chief W.J. Hunter even made Stevens an honorary citizen patrolman in 2000.
“Everyone that saw him would wave at him, pause, speak to him, blow the horn, and it would just make his day,” said Steve Denning, Stevens’s nephew. “Every time somebody recognized him that was in a uniform, it would make him feel really special.”
As part of Stevens’s self-appointed patrol, he checked in on merchants, gave Cary’s police updates about the goings-on downtown, gave directions or talked with residents.
“He could always make your problems in life seem trivial once you got done chatting with him,” Cary Police Cpt. Don Hamilton said.
Stevens, born in Garner, spent most of his life living in Cary, where he worked more than eight hours a day in grocery stores owned by his sister and brother-in-law, Doris and Joseph Denning, until they closed the stores and started opening convenience stores.
“He worked there in various capacities, from bagging groceries to stocking shelves to anything you gave him to do,” Steve Denning said. “He could outwork all of us. He could outwork every employee we ever had.”
After he finished his Saturday shift, Stevens would walk to the West Chatham Street area, where he would visit the local merchants who immediately trusted him, even allowing him to take their deposits to the bank.
“He loved people,” Denning said. “His whole life was built around helping somebody else or doing something for somebody else.”
It was this selflessness that helped him cultivate a strong bond with the downtown business-owners.
But even when he wasn’t downtown, Stevens still liked to keep an ear out for what was happening in his beloved Cary.
“One of his entertainments was being able to listen to the scanner and follow the action,” Denning said. “He derived immense pleasure from just listening to that action.”
But Stevens didn’t stop there. He also was involved in every downtown festival or parade, offering assistance to anyone who needed it and reporting any problems to security.
“When Lazy Daze started, he was there every single year and tried to help any way he could,” former Cary Councilwoman Regina McLaurin said. “We need more people that are that helping and caring these days.”
A dowtown without Gus
But since Stevens became such a fixture in downtown Cary, no one ever thought they would see the day when he wasn’t there anymore.
“None of us every really thought of a downtown Cary without Gus, so not having him there just doesn’t seem right,” Godwin said. “We all knew inevitably that day would come, but it still didn’t seem like it ought to.”
Stevens was first diagnosed with cancer about eight years ago. It went into remission, but about two weeks before he died, doctors discovered it had returned.
Ashworth said countless customers have stopped by the store the last few weeks and asked what happened to Stevens.
“He’ll definitely be missed by everybody down here for sure,” he said. “He is already missed.”
“Gus was downtown Cary’s little slice of Mayberry,” Godwin added. “He was one of those things that kept Cary feeling like a small town, no matter how big we got.”
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon