Gary Nuzum always made an impression. And he left an indelible mark on all of his McGrew Real Estate family. The prominently tall and brooding man is described in paradoxical words by friends and colleagues — fair/stern; grumpy/sensitive. The contradictory list continues but always ends with the responder lovingly praising the man who, for years, was nicknamed “Scary Gary.”
McGrew Technology Specialist, Eddie Davalos, chalks the ominous label up to conviction. “I would say there was very much a passion in his heart,” he said. “And yes, he would slap his hand on the desk. And I have heard through many different people that he was an intimidating man. But once you got past that crusty outer layer, he was without a doubt one of the most emotionally caring people that I have ever met.”
Gary’s legend often began as a misunderstanding of intimidation before he was recognized as the gentle giant he truly was. It wasn’t rare to see him with tears in his eyes overjoyed by the success of others or wounded by their plight.
Founder of McGrew Commercial Real Estate, Doug Brown, recalls his father’s death and how Gary reacted: “Gary didn’t say much, just acknowledged his sympathy, but he had tears in his eyes and a break in his voice. I knew he was there for me if I needed him.”
Tears also came during some of his weekly chats with McGrew Realtor, Emily Willis Stewart, and most often, when he spoke to her about his kids. During one meeting when Emily had to bring along her young daughter, Gary teared up.
Emily recalls him saying:
“That little girl — you’re gonna blink your eyes one day and she’s going to be 7 years old, and it’s gonna break your heart into little pieces. So, whatever you do, enjoy every second you’ve got because that’s all you got in life.”
Emily met Gary during her first week in real estate. She was eight-and-a-half months pregnant, nearing a divorce, and Gary “scared the living hell” out of her. She thought there was no chance they could have much in common.
Fast forward three months. Emily says she came back to work too soon and was struggling with post-partum depression. At the advice of McGrew management, she was directed to meet with Gary twice a week to support her and hone her real estate skills. At first, she believed it was the worst thing that could happen to her, but then the two formed a bond. At her lowest, Gary reminded her that she wasn’t alone.
“He just said,
‘We’re going to be here, and we’re going to figure it out.’
He became one of my best friends,” Emily said.
As a testament to that title, Gary was the best man in her recent wedding. The plan was for Emily to get married in Vegas, but beforehand, she wanted to discreetly wed in her kitchen. She called Gary, night-of, and asked what he was doing.
“Busy,” he said.
He insisted that whatever she needed done had to be done before 4:30 P.M. (For context, Gary once retrieved an unwelcome snake from Emily’s kitchen. Perhaps he thought it was a similar task.)
His persistence of time forced Emily to reveal her secret: “I said, ‘Gary! I’m getting married! Would you want to be my witness?’”
“I guess I’m not too busy for that,” he answered.
Eddie was 26 when he met the 36-year-old Gary for the first time. Despite the not-so-wide age difference, he perceived him as much older and wiser. “He was just so caring to a fault. I would even say generous to a fault with his time because he was so ready to give his time and knowledge to anyone,” he said.
Well-known as an authority figure in the local real estate community, Gary was respected for his fairness and honesty. Although some thought he was cantankerous, Doug saw him as a pragmatic realist.
“If you were on the wrong side of right and wrong, he would give you something to worry about. If you did the right thing, he was as gentle as a kitten,” Doug said. “He got to the bottom of things quickly and always had the right answer.”
That no-nonsense, compassionate sensibility was homegrown in the small northern Kansas community of White Cloud. A place where it was uncommon to lock your door, Gary grew up with integrity and a point of view.
McGrew Realtor and Gary’s daughter-in-law, Angel Nuzum, described him as “a man who wore many different hats” in her life. She looked up to him both personally and professionally and fondly recalled spending time with Gary and their family on his boat at Clinton Lake. She said he loved being out on the water and witnessing nature, especially the bald eagles.
“He could be passionate about a topic and even stern, but he also had this amazingly sensitive and caring side,” she said.
His natural ability for numbers helped him churn out advice. “When we would go out and do price opinions, he would be able to mentally turn through numbers,” Eddie said. “That was pretty impressive. That was a different kind of mind to be able to do that.”
Investing was a major passion of Gary’s. He encouraged everyone around him to invest in real estate. Emily was told,
“If you can’t buy, or aren’t in a position to, you work your hardest to get in that position.”
And Gary invested just as much in people as he did in his professional career.
“Gary was a very emotional person and cared deeply for the people around him,” Doug said. “In the early 90’s Gary gave me a referral on a deal and said,
‘I’m not sure this will turn into anything, but give this person a call.’
The lead turned into the renovation of the All Star Dairy building into the headquarters for Sallie Mae … The fact that he trusted me with the lead as our company’s commercial agent meant a lot to me.”
Gary was a man who would literally give a stranger the shirt off his back. Emily said Gary offered his favorite jacket to a young man in need after the McGrew-sponsored Downtown Horse Carriage Rides.
“He’s just so soft and sweet,” Emily said. “He was like an egg — hard on the outside, soft and gooey on the inside, but you would only ever know his soft side if he loved you.”
For those who were fortunate enough to experience the majestically varying layers of Gary, his distinct legacy lives on.
“Besides my dad, Gary was my most important mentor,” said Mike McGrew, Chairman and CEO of McGrew Real Estate. “For all of the 40 years that I’ve been at McGrew, Gary has been there. He brought so much wisdom, common sense, and passion for real estate. But what he did best was care for and coach all of us that were lucky enough to know him.”
McGrew Real Estate will forever be grateful for the contributions he made to our company, local real estate market, and of course, our hearts.
Gary Nuzum had a quiet departure from a rich life on Wednesday April 13, 2022. He was a huge part of what McGrew Real Estate has become as a company and a friend to all of us.