Larry Gifford bluegrass childhood led to another big adventure in faraway Washington State
By Hilary Reeves
Larry Gifford grew up in Riverside, California, 60 miles east of Los Angeles, an area the locals call the “Inland Empire.”
“When I was growing up, Riverside was mostly made up of orange groves,” he said. “We had easy access to the ocean, the mountains and the desert – all about the same distance apart. It was a good place to grow up.”
Gifford is the youngest of four brothers, close in age.
“I had a great childhood,” he said. “We did a lot of activities together, and I was the youngest, so I learned from their mistakes. We were very close and still are to this day. I was blessed to have good, hardworking parents. My parents were very good about taking us to a variety of places on vacation. We did a lot of tent camping – to me, tent camping was like staying at the Four Seasons.”
Gifford’s first job was as a cook at a restaurant called Taco Tia, but his first real professional curiosity was the medical field.
“Through high school I took some classes that gave me the opportunity to spend time at the local military hospital at March Air Force Base,” he said. “I learned how to do patient charting, which involved doing TPRs – temperature, pulse and respiration. On a few occasions, I got to go into the operating rooms to observe surgeries.”
Gifford met and married his wife soon after high school, which changed his career trajectory dramatically.
“We started having children, and I needed to provide for my family, which is okay,” he said. “Now 40 years later, I have three daughters and nine granddaughters, plus those three guys that come with the deal, whom I love dearly.”
Gifford was also interested in drafting in high school, and took a job at Hughes Aircraft Co. as a junior engineering draftsman not long after he was married.
“I worked that job for four years,” he said. “To this day I don’t recall why I left that job. I went on to be a building superintendent for a local home developer and worked there for the next four years. At that point, the developer had less work so I had to find a new job. After looking for a while, one of the jobs I could step into and still make good money was truck-driving.”
Gifford’s father drove a truck for 35 years, and Gifford, too, enjoyed his time on the road. But wanting a big change, he and his wife decided to move to Nashville where he thought he would try his luck playing music for a living. Not long after arriving, Gifford, having grown up in a musical family, quickly realized his dream wouldn’t be coming to fruition.
“Not long after arriving, I realized that there were better people there trying to do the same thing. That’s a tough town in which to break into the music business. The cab drivers played better than I did,” he laughed.
Once again, Gifford and his family were off on another adventure, this time to Washington State, where he took a job at Carlile Transportation Systems.
“For the first 15 years I drove trucks, and after that I was given the opportunity to become a ‘Safety Supervisor,’ which is my current title,” he said.
Gifford said he has the privilege of interacting with every one of the company’s Washington-based employees.
“One of my greatest joys is getting to know them, their interests, and what motivates them,” he said. “I feel that knowing more about them helps me to understand how best to serve them. I always like that quote that says ‘people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’ In the Tacoma Terminal we have 105 employees. My attitude is that I have 105 bosses. I work for them, and I love my job.”
At 8 a.m., Gifford can be found in the company’s warehouse participating in some warm-up exercises before sitting in on the daily safety toolbox meeting.
“Then I walk the dock and do observations, and take a moment to discuss our Safety Topic for that day with some of our employees individually. The warehouse walkthroughs are conducted multiple times throughout the day.”
Gifford still has his CDL and endorsements, allowing him the opportunity to help as needed.
“It reminds me of the challenges that our driver’s face on a daily basis,” he said. “If I had life to do over again, I might have served in a branch of the Armed Forces. I have the upmost respect for those who protect our great nation, as many of our drivers have in the past.”
He’s most proud of company employees who have worked hard and contributed through the BBS (Behavior Based Safety) and SALT (Safety Leadership Team) to establish a great safety culture.
“These are actions that are voluntary and not forced upon them by management, so it shows a commitment by all the employees to create a better work place,” Gifford said. “My future plan for my job are to continue to learn more in the safety field so that I may serve our employees better. Also to pursue with the help of those I work with in achieving VPP (Voluntary Protection Program) status in our company.”
Gifford loves to play golf, though he only hits the course a half-dozen times per year.
“I get asked to play all the time, but I think they are just looking for an obstacle to play around,” he laughed.
His passion remains music.
“Playing mandolin and guitar since I was a wee lad in a family bluegrass band gave me and my brothers the opportunity to play around the country at festivals,” he said. “We’ve been blessed to go to Europe to play for our troops, and also to share the stage with some notable country music artists – and even this guy who wanted to be President of the United States, Ronald Regan. I’ve had the honor of leading my church congregation in worship for more than 20 years. To this day, my brothers and I don’t play as much, but when the opportunity comes up, we are off and running. I’ve had a great life.”