Chris Gardner was remembered Monday as a godly man who loved children, his family and his friends.
The 58-year-old Gainesville businessman died Sunday from a heart attack.
“I feel like a part of my life has walked away right now,” Gardner’s best friend Larry Merritt said. “I know he’s in a better place.”
Gardner attended Gainesville High School and went on to study music at North Georgia College & State University.
He owned two Gainesville restaurants, The Coffee Shop at Lawrence Pharmacy and Jay-Lou’s restaurant on Industrial Boulevard.
His friends said he was often giving free meals to those in need; that was just the kind of guy he was.
He also, with his wife, Janice Kimbrell Gardner, started Sonrise Camp, a nonprofit organization that gives children therapeutic riding lessons.
“That was a tremendous thing. It was a lot of pressure on him but ... he loved those kids and wanted to give his time to them,” Merritt said.
The Gardeners, who were high school sweethearts, had been married for 37 years.
Janice Gardner said the man she married was loving and fun, and the only thing that changed since then was he got a little bit older.
“Chris was everybody’s buddy,” she said. “He was outgoing and had a lot of musical talent.”
Gardner sang tenor in the sanctuary choir of First Baptist Church in Gainesville, where he and his wife were members.
“He was just a great guy and always had a very good-natured spirit and a contagious laugh, and we will greatly, greatly miss him,” the Rev. Mark Green, associate pastor of music at First Baptist Church, said. “He’s been a great choir member for all the years I’ve been here.”
Gardner’s other passion was sports, and he spent many years coaching boys baseball and football.
Merritt said Gardner would often say that children needed to be involved in sports to keep them active and on the right path.
Janice Gardner said it often seemed like she had more than one son because Gardner was so involved with the boys on the teams.
“There are a lot of young adults that are calling and emailing me now telling me about how they’re going to miss him,” Janice Gardner said.
Merritt said camaraderie was more important to Gardner than anything else.
“He was just a great person and you missed a great opportunity if you didn’t know him,” Larry Merritt said.
A memorial service will be held 11 a.m. Wednesday at the First Baptist Church, 751 Green St., Gainesville. The family will receive friends 5- 8 p.m. today at Little and Davenport Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements.