Sports Obituary: Gaither a man of many talents

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 19, 2024


By Mike London

SALISBURY — As far as versatility and longevity, Wallace Claude Gaither’s athletic life was hard to beat.

“Wally” passed at 93 on Sunday, but the U.S. Navy veteran and the owner and operator of Wally Gaither Wholesale for over 65 years made every day count.

Gaither could garden, hunt, fish, bowl and golf at a high level. Back in his heyday, the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was a terror in team sports such as baseball, fast-pitch softball and basketball.

He was a 1949 graduate of Granite Quarry High, coming along a decade before Granite Quarry and Rockwell were consolidated into East Rowan..

Landis, he once said, was his personal rival during his high school days, even bigger than Rockwell, because Landis had all those Cross boys.

“We played Landis once and they had a Cross pitching, a Cross catching and a Cross umpiring,” Gaither said. “That made them pretty hard to beat.”

He said 68 was his record for most fish caught in a day, but there plenty of 100-fish weekends on the Carolina coast.

He played American Legion baseball for Rockwell for two years and Salisbury for two years. He was a lead-off man and second baseman on the diamond and thrived at turning crisp double plays with shortstop Larry Taylor. At the plate, he was successful against just about everyone except Gerald Blackburn, a legendary hard-thrower for the Kannapolis Legion state champs of 1946 and 1947.

In the 1960 city league fast-pitch softball championship games, Gaither had four hits and scored four runs in a doubleheader as Cartex Mill beat Cannon Mills behind famed pitcher R.T. Winecoff.

Gaither played on the 14-0 Granite Quarry basketball team in 1948 and went to Elon on a basketball scholarship.

Naval duty in the Korean War interrupted his college days. Among other things, the ships he served rescued downed pilots and chased a Russian submarine.

He was a fine bowler in the 1960s, averaging 187 pins. In 1962, he won the association championship in a major tournament held in Charlotte and qualified for national events.

In golf, he won the Corbin Hills club championship in 1973. After beating medalist Gene Snider in the first round and Bill Eaton in the second, he holed a 35-foot putt on the final hole to edge Jay Duke in a semifinal. In the final against Harold Holder, Gaither trailed by three holes at the turn, but he surged with two birdies and six pars over the next eight holes to win 2 and 1.

He qualified for the Championship Flight in the Labor Day Four Ball three times and made the semifinals once, but that championship eluded him. He lost close matches to two of the great golfers of the era — Harry Welch or A.D. Dorsett.

When he was in his early 70s, Gaither was still beating his age at McCanless.

He may not have been the best at any one thing, but not many people have been good at so many things.