Dressed in his puffy white costume, his cowboy hat decorated with garlic bulbs and wearing his trademark Birkenstocks, he strolls through the grounds of Christmas Hill Park, and everywhere he goes, choruses of, “Hey it’s the Garlic Dude,” are shouted by children and adults alike.
Mr. Garlic is as much a part of the history of Gilroy as the Garlic Festival itself. But who is Mr. Garlic?
He’s Gerry Foisy, and he’s 73 years young.
“Gerry, in his beloved role as Mr. Garlic, has become a Garlic Festival icon,” Brian M. Bowe, executive director of the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association, says, adding, “he is like our Santa Claus.”
Originally from Ohio, Gerry moved to Gilroy in the late 1970s. Since moving here he’s worked as a real estate agent, supervisor at Gilroy Foods, and owner/operator of a property maintenance company.
For the past 18 years, Gerry’s been maintenance manager at Advent Group Ministries, an organization he is proud to be associated with and whose mission is to empower people and break the cycles of abuse and addiction.
“The fun part about the job is seeing these young kids grasp hold of the idea of sobriety, and regain their lives,” Gerry says, tears welling.
“Our bragging rights are that we have more kids embracing sobriety, we have the smallest recidivism rate in the state. And the nice part, in a way, for my job, is that these young boys see somebody working and enjoying it.”
Also with tears in her eyes, Jeanne Foisy, Gerry’s wife, adds, “Now you know why I’ve stayed with him for 33 years.”
And without Jeanne, Gerry may never have become our beloved Mr. Garlic. The couple met on New Year’s Eve, 1982, when Gerry spent the evening at the Longhouse restaurant. Turns out, so did Jeanne.
The two met and shared a table in the Bee Hive Room, a bar in the back. They hit it off immediately.
After toasting in the New Year, they headed out for breakfast, Gerry’s treat.
Afterward, Jeanne was escorted to her home where the two spent the next several hours talking until the sun came up.
“We’ve seen each other every day since,” Jeanne says of the man she felt the moment she met him, was a gentleman.
Eight months and 20 days later the couple married.
It was through Jeanne’s place of employment, Gilroy Foods, the first sponsors of the Mr. Garlic character, that Gerry fell into his celebrated role.
Bob Kramer, owner of Gilroy Foods, created, and donned the very first Mr. Garlic costume. One day in 1987, Jeanne overheard Kramer’s secretary say, “I need one more Mr. Garlic.”
Without hesitation Jeanne piped up. “Gerry would do that, oh heck yeah, he’d do that in a heartbeat.”
When she arrived home from work she told Gerry about her day, adding, “Oh by the way, I volunteered you to be Mr. Garlic at the festival.”
Gerry accepted his new role with gusto.
“Because we’re just that way, we’re a little crazy, a little silly, we just enjoy doing it,” Jeanne says.
She should know, since she’s been Gerry’s festival companion every year. Gerry has dubbed Jeanne his “handler.”
The Garlic Festival weekend is quite a commitment for them both. On Friday, the Foisys arrive at 5:30 a.m., for the news coverage before the festival opens and they don’t leave until 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday are a bit lighter, averaging eight hours each day.
In 28 years, Gerry has never missed reprising his role as Mr. Garlic, including 11 years ago when he underwent heart surgery.
Through his commitment he has established long-time friendships.
“There have just been some real dynamite friendships out of this whole event, all the way around, festival volunteers and festival staff,” Gerry says.
But as all things must, Gerry’s reign as Mr. Garlic will come to an end after this year’s festival.
“I thought this would be a good year,” Gerry told Bowe. “It’s just time.”
“It’s really great that we have this year to celebrate Gerry’s 29 years of service to the Garlic Festival,” Bowe says.
Gerry talked to his children about giving up the role and to Gerry’s surprise, his son, Carl, spoke up.
“When that happens I want to take your place,” Carl Foisy told his father.
“It’s not about me or my dad. It’s all about the Gilroy Garlic Festival,” Carl says.
“My dad has made thousands of people from around the world smile, and I’m excited to continue the Mr. Garlic tradition.”
Gerry is equally pleased. “I’m happy to see that my son will step into my shoes, or my sandals, and carry on the tradition.”