Unofficial ambassador of the Garlic Festival

– Gerry Foisy looks like a regular guy. But when the Gilroy
Garlic Festival rolls around he does a Clark Kent, becoming his
alter ego Mr. Garlic.
GILROY – Gerry Foisy looks like a regular guy. But when the Gilroy Garlic Festival rolls around he does a Clark Kent, becoming his alter ego Mr. Garlic. Suddenly, ladies want to dance with him and festival goers try to snap pictures with him, because he is Mr. Garlic.

“People want to take pictures with Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Mr. Garlic,” he said, comparing himself to other characters at amusement parks. “I definitely am a character.”

Foisy takes his job as the unofficial mascot of the Garlic Festival very seriously.

“I try to go to as many events Gilroy Garlic Festival related as possible, I mean Mr. Garlic does, and so do I,” he said.

His sense of duty lasts all year round. Most recently Foisy attended a Giants baseball game wearing his trademark western-style hat with a wreath of garlic on the brim. He can also be seen ushering garlic queens to different parades, including the Fourth of July Parade in Morgan Hill and Memorial Day Parade in Gilroy. Ever the gentleman, this is one of Foisy’s favorite perks of the job.

After more than 15 years of playing the part, Foisy and Mr. Garlic have become inseparable. He carries pictures of himself in costume in his wallet to show youth at Advent Group Ministries, a recovery center where he works, in San Jose what he does in his spare time.

At 59, Foisy says he has no plans to step down. But in case the need arises he may already have his 25-year-old son Carl lined up to carry on the tradition.

“He (Carl) said ‘when are you gonna stop doing it dad?’ I told him ‘when my legs will not allow me to walk the festival grounds three days of the festival for the 10 to 12 hours a day that I am there and that’s when I’ll begin to start thinking about retiring,” Foisy said.

Over the years he has worn his share of costumes. But what has worked best is a sack-like costume made of lightweight muslin shaped like a garlic bulb that drapes from his shoulders to his knees. It’s open at the bottom to allow for proper ventilation, he said. Everyone wants to know what Foisy wears underneath. He wears a pair of faded blue shorts, he revealed.

“He’s a wonderful ambassador,” said Joann Kessler, assistant executive director of the Garlic Festival. “We couldn’t ask for a better one.”

Ironically, Foisy sort of stumbled into it. The garlic suit has been filled by several Gilroyans with the first being Bob Kraemer, a school board member. For many years Mr. Garlic was sponsored by Gilroy Foods. One year Patty Hale at Gilroy Foods was searching for someone to be Mr. Garlic when Foisy’s wife Jeann piped up and said her husband could do it.

Residents of Gilroy for 24 years, the couple had been involved in the festival before in various areas, such as helping at lost and found and handing out programs. But this is by far Foisy’s preferred role.

“There’s a lot of fun to it. There’s a lot of enjoyment in it in meeting with people who come to the festival,” he said.

For anyone else it might be tiring wandering the festival grounds for 10 to 12 hours each day of the festival all these years – not for Foisy. He just keeps on waving and asking everyone “Have you had your garlic yet today?”

“Festival goers love him,” Kessler said. “He looks so friendly. He has such a come hither look … his enthusiasm is contagious.”