Oliver Maxwell Gardner was born in Shelby, North Carolina on March 22, 1882. His father Dr. Oliver Perry Gardner was a country doctor who had lost everything after the civil war. His mother, Margaret Young Gardner was Dr. O. P. Gardner’s second wife and died when Max was ten years old. Gardner’s maternal great-great grandfather George Blanton was patriarch in common for most of the old families in the area. His wife Fay Webb Gardner was a distant cousin and like him the great grandchild of Burwell Blanton, George Blanton’s son.
Miss Fay was also the daughter of Superior Court Judge James L. Webb and niece of Congressman E. Yates Webb. Along with Max’s older brother, Mayor J. T. Gardner they were dominate political figures in the local area. This group along with his brother-in-law Clyde R. Hoey, and Gardner, became known as the Shelby Dynasty. (see article on “Shelby Dynasty”)
After his father passed away in 1899, Max’s sisters pooled their inheritance to send him to college.
Max Gardner enrolled in the North Carolina A. and M. College in January of 1900. In his junior year he was elected captain of the football team. The play that made him all-Southern tackle came in the fall of 1902 against Clemson when Gardner literally dragged the quarterback over the goal line for his team’s only touchdown.
In 1905 he attended law school at the University of Chapel Hill. And in 1906 he was elected captain of the football team, making him the only man ever elected football captain at competing state-supported colleges. Even though he played for the University at Chapel Hill he was excused from playing in the game against North Carolina A. and M.
In 1907 Max Gardner became a junior law partner of his sister Ollie’s husband, J. A. Anthony in Shelby, NC. Max’s work was mainly a criminal practice defending the poor.
Max and Miss Fay were also married that year. Gardner considered his marriage to her one of the best political decisions he ever made. Miss Fay was one of most popular figures in political circles of the time.
The Gardner’s had four children Margaret Love in 1908, James Webb ”Decker” in 1910, Ralph Webb in 1912 and O. Max Gardner, Jr. in 1922.
Margaret Love married N. E. Burgess. Margaret Love and Eugene Burgess made their home in New Jersey until her death in 2001. They had one child, Barbara Burgess Reilly, who lives with her husband Don in McLean, Virginia.
James Webb Gardner died in 1946. James, fondly known as "Decker," had two children--James Webb Gardner, Jr. and Suzanne Gardner Hayes.
Suzanne died of cancer in 2005. She was survived by four sons. Jim is married and has a son and a daughter.
Ralph Webb Gardner married Carrie Derby of Eutaw, Alabama, in 1951 in Washington, D.C.. Prior to the marriage, Carrie was the Executive Secretary to Edward M. Pauley, the President of the Standard Oil Company of Ohio. Mr. Pauley at the time of marriage owned the Los Angeles Rams football team and as a result of his charitable donations to the University of Californian at Los Angeles the school named its new basketball pavilion in his honor. Ralph practiced law in Washington with Gardner Morrison & Rogers until his return to Shelby in 1967. He opened his own practice at that time and remained "of counsel" to the Washington firm. Carrie died of a heart attack in 1980 and Ralph died in 1982. Both Ralph and Carrie died at Webbley, the family home in Shelby. They did not have any children.
O. Max Gardner, Jr., secured his BA degree from NC State in 1948 and graduated from the UNC School of Law in 1950. He died in 1961 after an
11 year battle with Multiple Sclerosis. Max and his wife, Sara Mull Gardner, had two children--O. Max Gardner III born in 1945 and John Mull Gardner, born in 1949. Sara died of complications from breast cancer in 1968. Max III and his first wife, Janet Huffstetler Gardner, had three children--Max IV, Sarah and Webb. John and Kathy Smith Gardner had two children--Bill and Cam. Max IV was killed on April 25, 2005 in an automobile accident involving a drunk driver. He left a wife--Allyson Petty Gardner--and one son, Oliver Perry Gardner II.
Shelby Political Dynasty:
- E.Y. Webb, Congressman & Federal Judge
- James L. Webb, State Superior Court Judge
- O. Max Gardner, Lt. Governor, Governor, UnderSecretary of US Treasury, Ambassador to Great Britain
- Clyde R. Hoey was a member of the North Carolina State Senate and the North Carolina House, was a United States Senator and also a Representative in the House. He is the only person in NC history to hold all 4 of these offices. He was also Governor.