Working Years

Cary in her furniture store
(Photo Courtesy of Cary Johnston)

 Cary began working after she graduated from Vanderbilt.  She became an elementary school teacher even though she did not have a teaching certificate.  Cary really appreciated this experience.  However, she only taught for a year and a half before she had to quit– “I was pregnant with Bert at the time, and at this time you were forced to stop working after you were five months pregnant.”  For twenty years, Cary focused her attention on raising her children and running the home.  She thought she would never work again, but had no idea she would eventually have great success in the business world.

Part-time Jobs

Although Cary did not have to start working after her divorce in 1977, she began to take various part-time jobs.  First, she worked at an employment agency in Charlotte.  This job required “a lot of cold-calling, which I hated,” attempting to get job listings.  Cary did not have this job for long because “fortunately, the agency went broke quickly.”

Cary next worked as a receptionist at Consumer Credit Counseling in Charlotte, NC.  Her main responsibilities included taking telephone calls and addressing envelopes.  Cary can remember looking at the people come into the office for debt counseling and thinking to herself, “I would be a good counselor.”

Ironically, her next job involved a great deal of counseling, as she was a tutor for North Mecklenburg High School seniors.  At this time, the state had approved a competency test for seniors, and many seniors were failing the test.  The schools hired tutors to work with students who failed the test.  Although Cary was initially apprehensive about the experience, she ended up loving it.  “Truthfully, I got very fond of the kids. They could’ve dropped out of school, but they didn’t and they were motivated to succeed.  I remember giving those kids my number asking them to call me when they got their results, and most of them passed.  I wanted to be encouraging to the kids even if they didn’t pass the test.”  Unfortunately, the job was short-lived because the school put full-time teachers in elementary and middle schools to rectify the educational problem at an earlier age.

The Store

A major transition occurred at this point in Cary’s working life.  She was dating a man named Bill who worked in Charlotte as the treasurer of a construction company.  Bill expressed to Cary that he wanted her to help him run a store, and he had access to inventory from a friend of his in Matthews, NC.  Cary was taken aback, but agreed to the challenge.  They opened a furniture business together.  Cary remembers, “the name of my store was ‘Cary’s,’ short and simple. It was located at 206 North Main St. in the heart of downtown Mooresville. It took off, it did really well.”

Eventually, Bill and Cary ended their relationship, but continued to run the store together.  When a building became available up the street, Cary went to investigate the cost of rent (as she and Bill were considering expanding their business) and met Gene, a divorced real estate agent.  They began dating shortly after meeting.

After six months or so, Bill asked Cary to buy him out and run the company by herself.  It never occurred to Cary that she could run the store by herself.  She used the money her father left her to buy Bill’s inventory and after a few months, Cary moved the business into another building in downtown Mooresville (with Gene’s help) and the business grew by leaps and bounds.  Gene eventually started working at the store with Cary.  “Gene was a tremendous help.  It just couldn’t have gone better.  By the time I stopped running the store, the store was making almost half a million dollars a year.  I used to tell Gene that one of the smartest things I ever did was convince him to come work with me.”  Cary often reminisces about her time running the store with Gene—those years were some of the happiest of her life, and owning a successful business was incredibly rewarding.

The store (Photo Courtesy of Cary Johnston)

Cary’s relationship with Gene is also discussed on the Marriages page.  You can navigate the mouse to the Family tab at the top of the page and select Marriages or you can click here to learn more about Cary’s relationship with Gene.

Volunteer and Community work

After briefly living in Mooresville with Gene, Cary moved back to Davidson after his death and got more involved in the church.  One day, Randy Kincaid (the mayor of Davidson at the time) asked her to serve on the planning board in Davidson.  Cary was immediately involved in a big controversy about property-owning.  She had no idea she would become so involved on the planning board, yet she was successful in her work on the board and was eventually elected Vice Chair of the Planning Board.  After Dave Martin retired from the Town Board, Cary ran for the Davidson Town Board and won. To learn more about the Davidson Town Board, click here.

Cary’s various jobs and achievements were completely unexpected, and Cary contends that her many jobs and accomplishments might never have happened if she and Allen hadn’t been divorced.  Despite the fact that Cary was deeply disappointed over her divorce, she is able to find the silver-lining in the experience.


The text, video, audio, and website are the result of interviews conducted by Ally Miller,
Davidson College Class of 2012, in the fall of 2011.

© 2011 Kristi S. Multhaup, Ph.D. | Davidson College | Davidson, NC 28035 | Phone: 704.894.2008
Please direct site comments to: krmulthaup@davidson.edu