In Tribute: Former teacher ran a saloon, loved to ski

by David Irvin

He taught a middle-school social studies class, later ran a saloon and loved to take his family water and snow skiing. His daughter said she was the first person in Clovis to ride a skateboard — thanks to her father, handyman James Cicero Avery.

A North Carolina native, Avery was hired by the Clovis school district in the early 1950s and spent 30 years in the area teaching, selling books and later running a successful business.

He died of cancer Aug. 28 at his home in Greenville, Tenn., at the age of 84.

His decision to come to Clovis was characteristic of a man his daughter Ginger Avery Watt described as adventurous and a safe investor.

The superintendent of Clovis schools helped him make the decision, offering James Avery and his wife, Eloise, jobs in the district.

Avery was born in 1920 in Dover, N.C., and grew up on a farm, his brother, L.R. Avery said.

Before America got involved in World War II, James Avery joined the Navy, where he served from 1939 to 1945 as a pharmacist mate. His war career took him to places such as Australia and Guadalcanal, an island South Pacific.
When he got out of the Navy, he bounced around for a few years, marrying his first wife and attending college. After getting divorced, he chose to finish his studies at home in North Carolina. It was there, at East Carolina University, he met his second wife and best friend, Eloise. They earned teaching degrees and began teaching school in North Carolina.

Somewhere along the way, Avery heard the highest wages for teachers in the country were in New Mexico and Alaska. He took that to heart, and in 1954, he moved his young family across the country to Clovis, where he began teaching social studies at Marshall Junior High, his daughter said.

Later he sold textbooks all over the state, to Amarillo and El Paso, Texas, and as far as Colorado, his friend Bruce Smith recalled.

Ginger recalled a family trip to Disney Land in 1962, when James first saw the new and novel idea called a skateboard.

Upon returning to Clovis Avery set himself to the task of building one by dismantling some old roller-skates, joining a few two-by-fours and covering the whole thing in red paint. Ginger said she was the first girl in town with a skateboard.
He ran the old Riley’s Switch package store and saloon for years, his daughter said.

Smith, who worked with Avery at his store during that time, described him as a gracious boss. He was willing to do whatever it took to get a job done, Smith said, and was focused on the details.

In the mid-1980s, Eloise inherited a 150-year old family home in Greenville, Tenn., prompting James and Eloise to move back to the rural landscape of the southeast to renovate the old home.

In 1990, Eloise was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, family members said. Though some urged James to admit her to an Alzheimer’s care facility, he chose to take care of her at the old house. Her battle with the disease lasted 10 years.
“He was an incredible caregiver to her,” Ginger said. “That’s why so many people respect him in Greenville so much.”
James died from cancer in the same room where Eloise died. It was his request to die there, his daughter said.