Jimmy Chulkus laughed out loud while leaning back in a booth at the Clock Restaurant on Poinsett Street.
Gee had the pea removed from his whistle when he repeatedly imagined fouls during youth league basketball games.
Gee has a mischievous look as he comes upon the machine that paints stripes at Dooley Field.
Randy Porter often enlisted Gee's help collecting tickets at downtown festivals at the hotdog vending site.
“Two hot dogs, French fries and a tea! A big ice tea! To go!”
Chulkus was in mid-sentence talking about Lonnie “Gee” McGee when he paused, busted out laughing again and repeated the phrase.
That was Gee’s standard order when he came for dinner at Clock Restaurant. “That’s what he wanted and that’s all he would say,” Chulkus said of one of thousands of relationships Greer residents had with Gee.
Shortly before 5 o’clock most days Gee would patiently wait across the street, rocking back and forth and whistling, under the shady and sometimes rain repellant trees. Chulkus would be in the kitchen and Gee would come to the back door for his food promptly at the top of the hour.
No money was ever exchanged, just brief looks between the eyes of two men with accompanying smiles acknowledging the respect and love for each other’s place in Greer.
Gee leaves Greer this week for a new home in Clinton, according to a police statement sent to media Wednesday. An aunt, who cared for Gee, has been diagnosed with cancer and can no longer provide around the clock attention.
As if recognizing his days were winding down in a town that adopted him, McGee walked slowly along Trade Street in downtown Greer Wednesday afternoon, peering into restaurants, businesses and pausing at the Greer Chamber of Commerce. He crossed to Poinsett Street at Rivera’s, making his way to Main Street. Most likely he was headed to the Clock.
A text message Wednesday, “Just saw Gee walking down Trade” spoke volumes how little he was seen in the central business district, that is, unless there was a festival or event – Family Fest, Freedom Blast, Greer Idol, Music in the Park, Heart Run – ongoing.
Gee basically showed up where the action was. Greer High School football games with its marching band, youth league basketball and football venues, picnics, Christmas Parade… He always had a knack to be in the middle of the action and appropriately attired whether it be as a festival goer or sports official.
Nobody could answer how Gee knew when or where to be and what to wear. He was like a refreshing breeze. He just showed up.
“He’s a great guy, Chulkus said. “It takes a while for him to trust you. If anybody did ridicule him,” Chaulkus said with furrowed eyebrows, “half of Greer would jump on them.”
Which brings Chulkus to an unconfirmed but frequently told story of an unknown individual driving Gee to a desolate spot in Greenville before letting him out of the vehicle. Gee arrived back in Greer, reportedly, two days later. “That’s why he never trusted anybody to get back in the car,” Chulkus said. “He would only get in the car with Rick Porter.”
Porter, owner of Dogs on Pelham, would serve hotdogs at festivals and events with Gee taking tickets and depositing them in a box to be cashed in later.
Chulkus said Gee is a mysterious person in his own right. “Who is the person that puts Gee in the right place at the right time?"
“Nobody knows how old he is. He looks fairly young but I would think he’s in his 60s. Where did he learn his high-stepping for the band? He probably saw it on TV somewhere. Who knows? Maybe at the football games watching the band?”
Gee is like a legend, Chulkus said. "He’s the heartbeat of Greer."
“When Gee walks through these doors [at the Clock], he lights up the room,” Chulkus said. “If we’re full, half the people know him and they will speak to him, pat him on the back and ask him how he’s doing."
Chulkus tried to explain Gee’s acceptance in Greer. “I think that speaks to the people around him,” Chulkus said. “Down here people are warm-hearted, friendly, and just good Christian folks and they know how to treat people.”
As long as Chulkus can remember, “I never saw Gee cold or wet, shivering or cold.”
Lee Dumas is a city councilman, member of the chain gang at Greer football games and a Greer High School alumnus.
“Don’t be sad for Gee,” Dumas said with a smile. "Every time he’s laughing he’s having a ball. He loves Greer more than Greer loves him.”
Dumas said he never remembers seeing Gee unhappy. “He’s got bigger fish to fry,” Dumas said. “Gee’s got the city, band, athletes and other things to do. He’s an ambassador. Nobody asks him to do it. Gee just shows up in a big way.”
Dumas, like many fathers, coached youth sports. That meant Gee would surely show up, dressed with his referee’s uniform, with his whistle at basketball games blowing it loudly for imagined fouls. Play would continue with players, coaches and fans oblivious to Gee’s officiating.
Mayor Rick Danner also coached his children in church basketball. “Gee would be running the sidelines, throwing his arms up and blowing his whistle,” Danner said. "He really never bothered anybody.”
But Dumas and Danner laughingly recalled that someone eventually took the pea out of Gee’s whistle.
During football season Gee would be attired in his officials’ uniform, running up and down the field. “He would frequently throw the flag and yell ‘third down’”, Dumas said.
Coaches and players from nearby communities would acknowledge Gee’s presence through conversation or high fives and pats on the back.
Dumas said Gee responds well with authority, however Danner saw another side of Gee on one occasion.
“About three years ago, during the [city] employees' picnic, I was ready to say a prayer, and just as I was about to begin, Gee tried to take the microphone away from me,” Danner said.
“I spoke sternly to him … He dropped his head, his shoulders lowered and he walked away and sulked. For the rest of the day he would not pay any attention to me. To this day Rita laughs and still reminds me of the time I did that to Gee.”
It was Rita that introduced Danner to Gee’s persona. “When Rita and I first started dating, the Greer football team would play at the old Arlington Stadium. Rita would say, ‘the band will shortly be behind McGee.’”
Dumas said if he picked a snapshot of Gee frozen in time, “It would be with an old Greer hat with a block G on it tilted on his head and he would be smiling.”
Dumas said Gee is “timeless”. Almost like Santa Claus.
“Most kids will line up on the street to see Santa,” Dumas said. “They line up and are just as happy to see Gee.”
Chulkus said he wouldn’t want to judge a popularity contest between Santa Claus and Gee.
“Is he more popular than Santa Claus? I say Gee by a nose. No, just by a hair, for sure,” Chulkus rolls back in his seat with another hearty laugh.
“In the end. G is for Gee and Greer. It’s all about the G. Gee is Greer,” Chulkus said.