CHARLOTTE — Waiting by the door to his charter bus or standing inside the players entrance gate of the Carolina Panthers, Gary Roseborough finds plenty of chances to dish out the aluminum crosses stuffed in his pants pockets.
“Do you have one of my crosses?” Roseborough asks, knowing he already has distributed so many.
His simple, unadorned gift might come with a saying more than a sermon. “When you are down to nothing, God is up to something,” he says, or “You can’t have a testimony until you have a test.”
Most of the time, however, the crosses are the always ebullient Roseborough’s way of just reaching out and being friendly.
Players such as Cam Newton, Steve Smith and DeAngelo Williams know him as the man with crosses. When Panthers players have had more time to hear Roseborough’s message — maybe on a bus ride to the airport — he emphasizes those tiny crosses won’t bring them luck or win the game for them.
“The Lord loves the other team as much as he does you,” he says.
But having a strong faith will strengthen them and lead the players to making better choices, Roseborough offers.
As he has watched the games this season, Roseborough gives his crosses some of the credit for the Panthers not getting into as many on-field fights or being called for stupid penalties during this turn-around, playoff campaign.
“They’re making better decisions, thinking better and coming together better,” concludes the 61-year-old Roseborough, sparkling from his neatly shined shoes to his cleanly shaven head. “One man is not going to win the game.”
A native of the Dorsett Town community outside of Spencer, Roseborough knows about hard work, adversity and turning things around.
Since 1973, Roseborough has driven charter buses — first, for Sam Moore’s company in Salisbury and now for H.A. Thompson’s Rose Chauffeured Transportation Ltd. in Charlotte.
Over those 40 years, Roseborough notes, he has never had an accident or traffic citation. And all that time Roseborough has held down other jobs, including long stints in Salisbury with Mitchell & Fair Funeral Service and at the Food Lion Distribution Center.
He’s also a U.S. Army veteran.
But a couple of years ago, a messy breakup with his wife of 30-plus years led Roseborough to face a restraining order, anger management classes and community service.
It left him with nothing except his work, clothes, a car and a motel room on the south side of Charlotte he pays for by the week.
Roseborough says only that he was the victim of an abusive relationship. “I don’t do that,” he claims.
Roseborough’s spiritual awakening didn’t occur by handing out crosses. Rather, it happened when he was 15 and tried to commit suicide twice. The advice he received from two men immediately after those attempts stuck with him, and he has never considered himself poor since.
“I’m rich in Jesus,” he says. “I’m rich in spirit.”
Thanks to his driving charter buses for Rose Chauffeured Transportation, Roseborough says his crosses are in the hands of people across the United States and into Canada.
“Gary’s requested a lot,” says Tom Holden, director of operations for Rose. “… I wish all the employees were the same as Gary.”
Thompson, a former WBT radio personality, says his transportation business is built on people, not equipment.
“The driver is everything,” Thompson says, “and Gary’s one of the people who come here and do a good job.”
For the past six years, Rose Chauffeured Transportation also has been a contractor for the Panthers. Four company buses — with Roseborough as one of the drivers — carry the team to and from the airport for away games.
At home games, six Rose buses transport Panthers employees from the parking lots to the stadium. Rose Chauffeured Transportation also provides limousines for the Panthers’ participation in the National Football League’s Safe Ride program.
Because he also used to drive for America Charters-Coach America, Roseborough has been transporting the Carolina Panthers since 1995, when they played their inaugural season in Clemson.
But it was one of Roseborough’s other jobs — he has driven tractor-trailers on local runs for West Bros. for the past 10 years — that led him to the crosses.
During one of his trips to Ingersoll Rand, Roseborough walked into a Mocksville convenience store and saw some of the perfectly stamped crosses in a basket for the taking.
He later made some inquiries, leading him to Mocksville welder Phil Fuller, who purposely made and set out crosses for people such as Roseborough to find.
With a stamping machine dedicated solely to the production of crosses, Fuller made Roseborough a box full to hand out.
Whenever Roseborough needs a new supply, he picks them up at the entrance gate to Ingersoll Rand when he’s making a delivery.
“I’m loving touching people’s lives every day,” Roseborough says.
Roseborough says he grew up with an abusive mother, “and I started running away from home at an early age.”
He eventually chose to live in a barn set apart from the house.
Roseborough started picking cotton when he was 8 and worked for a chicken farm collecting eggs when he was 13.
When Sam Moore provided a bus to transport Dorsett Church members to Sunday picnics, a young Roseborough sat behind Moore and told him some day he wanted to be a bus driver, too.
Not long after one of those picnics, Roseborough rode his bicycle into Salisbury to Moore’s bus company and began picking up trash and cigarette butts off the grounds.
Roseborough later explained to the boss he was just looking for a little work and an opportunity to learn anything he could about the buses.
Moore gave him a job of washing the vehicles, and as time went on, allowed Roseborough to ride with drivers. Once he turned 16, Roseborough could back out, pull in and park buses on the terminal grounds.
“I was a hustler,” Roseborough says.
But he also was bullied in school, where classmates derided him for his clothes and appearance. He usually sat apart from the rest of his class.
By the ninth grade, Roseborough says, he couldn’t sleep and his nerves were shot. He walked home from school to avoid teasing on the bus.
Roseborough says he purposely tried to be bitten by copperheads nesting near his barn’s hog pen.
Though he was bitten twice, he survived. He then tried to hang himself from a loft in the barn.
“When I jumped, that rope was cut,” Roseborough claims. “I think that the Lord cut that rope, because I know that rope was strong.”
Roseborough says he went outside after the failed hanging attempt and carved a wooden cross out of a tree branch.
“This is what the crosses are about,” he says. “I always carry my crosses and thank God he loved me and blessed me through all I’ve been through.”
Naomi Mitchell, a math teacher at Dunbar, heard of Roseborough’s suicide attempts and gave him a ride home from school one day. Her husband, Allen, was waiting for them.
Allen Mitchell took Roseborough to his funeral home’s chapel, where the Rev. James Stowe walked in and talked to the teen for a long time.
Stowe told Roseborough to put his faith in God, “and you need to do it now.” Roseborough promised he would.
Mitchell then took the boy to the embalming room, where there was a dead body, and told Roseborough the best advice he could give was to “Sit down, shut up and listen to the word of God.”
“I am what I am from those two statements,” Roseborough says today. “Faith in God and sit down, shut up and listen to the word of God.”
The Mitchells became like a second family, giving Roseborough work to supplement what he was learning at the bus company.
Starting in 1969, Roseborough helped at the funeral home for decades. Sarah Gibson worked closely with Roseborough for 32 years and was one of many colleagues and friends from the funeral home, Food Lion, West Bros., America Charters-Coach America, Ingersoll Rand and Salisbury who gave him recommendations in 2011 when he was in court.
“He became an example for other staff members and worked diligently to provide good service to everyone he encountered,” Gibson said.
Roseborough quit school in the ninth grade, and within 30 days of his turning 21, Moore helped him attain his commercial drivers license.
He has been driving charters since Oct. 23, 1973, though for three years, from 1975-77, he served a stint in the Army.
From 1979 to 1995, Roseborough worked for the Food Lion Distribution Center, pulling orders and driving a forklift.
On the bus side of things, Roseborough drove mostly weekends and on special excursions for Moore, then companies in Kannapolis, Gastonia and Charlotte.
Charter trips have taken him across much of North America. “When I travel, I have several hundred (crosses) on me,” Roseborough says now.
Roseborough enjoys telling you he has a problem being on time for work. “I’m never on time, I’m always before time,” he says.
West Bros. dispatcher David Carter confirms, “He’s early — he’s one of the few who are.”
Over time, Roseborough moved to Charlotte and lived in Bradfield Farms before his divorce.
Roseborough and fellow driver Cliff McCrary say the Panthers players, as with any sports team, are superstitious.
If sitting in a particular seat or riding with a certain driver precedes a victory or good performance, a player often wants to repeat that routine.
Roseborough says he likes joking around with the players and doesn’t treat them any differently than other passengers.
Many of the players’ family members, coaches, Panthers owner Jerry Richardson and Sir Purr the mascot also have his crosses, he adds.
Roseborough still travels to Rowan County on occasion. His grandson Courtney Roseborough, a sophomore at North Rowan High, played football on North’s 2013 conference championship team.
Courtney gave his trophy to Gary for safekeeping.
Gary Roseborough has strong feelings on how young men can turn their lives around.
“Pull your clothes up, groom yourself, act like a man and remember this (life) is a blessing from God,” he says.
Roseborough writes down and often repeats catch phrases people have told him over the years.
They’re like the sayings you often find on church message boards.
The Rev. Dr. W.T. Jackson told him a man should “bury excuses and come with solutions.”
His late friend Elizabeth Hubbard said, “When you point one finger at someone, there are three more pointing back at you.”
Roseborough recently has been drawing workers’ compensation for shoulder and back injuries he suffered while unloading a truck in 2013.
But he is still cleared to drive a charter bus — and pass out his crosses.
“Everywhere I am, I’m touching lives with the crosses,” he repeats. “I say, ‘Where you are, I’ve been there.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or firstname.lastname@example.org.