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Gainesville man keeps active lifestyle after celebrating 90th birthday
Devon Reeves jogs 3 miles a day and works full time at Carriage Nissan
Devon Reeves, 90, has been working at Carriage Nissan in Gainesville for 26 years. Every day, Reeves runs 3 miles before heading to work. - photo by Erin O. Smith

On Monday, Devon Reeves woke up, jogged his usual 3 miles and headed to work, where he celebrated a milestone. The Gainesville man turned 90 on Halloween.

But to him it was just another day.

“Nothing more than I do every day,” he said. “Jogging, bathing, shaving and showering, putting on some clean clothes and coming to Carriage Nissan to work.”

All day long, Reeves received well-wishes from his fellow employees at Carriage Nissan off Browns Bridge Road in Gainesville. These were small gestures for the active, friendly and self-proclaimed people-person who has been selling cars 26 years.

A retired Baptist minister with an emphasis in music, Reeves works five days a week as the dealership’s goodwill ambassador.

“I mix and mingle, smile, make them feel welcome (and) make them feel glad they came to Carriage Nissan,” Reeves said. “I love people. They love me, at least the boss thinks so. That’s why he chose to have me around.”

The role of goodwill ambassador was created specifically for Reeves after he turned in his resignation letter announcing his retirement in October 2015. Reeves said the dealership’s owner tried to talk him into staying on in sales. But as he approached his 89th birthday, he said he felt it was time to hang up his salesman’s hat.

Eventually the owner, David Basha, devised the job of goodwill ambassador and offered it to Reeves. The job meant Reeves, then 88 years old, wouldn’t have to bear the outdoor elements on the sales lot. It also meant the Gainesville senior citizen wouldn’t work weekends. His new hours would be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“I felt humbled and honored,” Reeves said of having a position created for him.

To maintain the rigors of a car salesman and goodwill ambassador as well as stay healthy, Reeves jogs daily. And he has done so for 26 years.

Reeves can be seen running up and down the streets of his North Hall County subdivision every day. Although, he admits he’d like to increase that amount.

Reeves said he had been running five miles a day, but a shoulder injury sidelined him in June 2015. He underwent surgery and eventually started walking 1 mile a day. Then he increased it to 3 miles.

Finally, with his surgeon’s blessing, he began jogging again. He started with 1 mile and worked up to 3 miles. He continues that exercise regime daily before heading to work.

The job as a car salesman was a second career for Reeves. For 37 years, he was a music minister at various Baptist churches.

He started working in churches after attending New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for two graduate degrees — one of which included a master’s degree in church music. He received his undergraduate degree from Auburn University in Alabama.

Born in 1926, Reeves also served in the U.S. Air Force during World War II before attending college.

During his time as a minister, he met and married his wife, Mabel. They were married for 62 years, before Mabel died six years ago.

“God gave me a lovely wife and companion for 62 years and five months,” he said. “I live alone. So I do my own housekeeping, cleaning my house, cooking.”

But he has plenty of family to remind him of his life with her. Reeves has two children, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

His job at the car dealership keeps him busy. But it was an unexpected job after he retired from the church in the mid-1980s.

Reeves discovered he didn’t want to just sit at home.

“I needed to do something. I needed to go somewhere,” he said.

So he set his sights on another occupation. He heard about the job at Carriage Nissan from a friend who was already a salesman. He knows some questioned his decision to work as a salesman.

“People thought, ‘What makes you think you can sell a car?’” he said. “Well, I sold people on Jesus Christ for 37 years, surely I could sell them a car.”

That philosophy earned him the job, and his skills translated into success at the dealership. Reeves said he sold more than $70 million worth of vehicles in his tenure at Carriage.

One of the highlights in his career happened a year-and-a-half ago. For the first time ever, a customer requested purchasing seven new cars for his grandchildren.

“That was quite an experience in sales. Nobody else had done it,” he said, noting sometimes companies will purchase multiple vehicles at a time for work use, but never seven.

Chris Ellison, chief operations officer at Carriage Nissan said Reeves has sold cars before to several generations of the same family.

“As a salesperson, he was very active and a go-getter,” he said. “As goodwill ambassador, he keeps us on our toes for the most part.”

Reeves knows he will eventually retire, but said he will work at Carriage Nissan until it no longer needs him.

While the dealership celebrated Reeves’ birthday on Monday, it was not the only place to mark the occasion.

Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville — where Reeves’ is a member — marked his 90th birthday by letting him be the guest choir conductor Oct. 30, the Sunday before his birthday.

Reeves, who said he loves choral music, was honored at the invitation.

“It brought back old times,” he said. “I did that full time for 37 years.”

Reeves prepared for the guest spot by rehearsing with the choir and helping the Rev. Bill Risinger, worship pastor at Lakewood Baptist, select the music for the service. The two songs the Crosspoint Worship Choir sang under Reeves’ direction were “The King is Coming” and “Midnight Cry.”

Reeves selected Risinger as a soloist for one of the songs.

“It was such a joyful experience for me,” Risinger said. “It was so wonderful to be in the choir and see the joy on his face and the joy in the congregation’s faces.”

Risinger has also turned to the former minister for advice since meeting Reeves eight years ago.

“(He) understands how to encourage a person who is continuing in ministry and he’s done that ever since I came,” said Risinger, who added the two have become close friends over the years.

Risinger also says Reeves is well-known at Lakewood’s Crosspoint worship service.

Away from the office and church, Reeves stays active by working outside in his garden and watching Auburn football games.

When it comes to his theory on his active lifestyle, Reeves thanks God and credits himself for taking care of his body.

“I’m no better than anyone else, but I’ve never done drugs, never done alcohol and I just took care of my body,” Reeves said. “I’m not bragging. I’m not complaining. I’m not comparing myself with anybody else. I’m no better than anybody.”