Now 50 years old, Bert McElroy was born and raised in West Memphis, Ark. He didn’t have a concrete plan after high school but felt drawn to a bigger city. Quietly he saved money, then one day loaded up his car and told his parents at the dinner table that he was moving to Atlanta that very night. He drove through a rainstorm and pulled into the city at sunrise with no place to stay or job lined up.
The one thing Bert had going for him is that he knew how to sew, which his grandmother had started teaching him when he was eight. Young and resourceful, he started making drapes in his apartment, which he grew into a legitimate company. The profit from that business eventually allowed him to start investing in real estate. It was after he discovered his talent for buying and flipping houses that he sold the drapery company to pursue real estate full time.
After years of a fast-paced lifestyle and plenty of stress, the longing for change Brough Bert back to Memphis. He settled in Annesdale Park and began looking for a new vocation.
“I was eating breakfast at the Barksdale most mornings. One day my server said, ‘I’m putting in my notice. If you’re looking for a job, why not apply for mine?’”
Bert has been waiting tables there ever since. “I love the place. I love the people. I love doing the work,” he says. “I’ve been there for 10 years, and I’m still the newbie. Most of my coworkers have been there for 20 years or more.”
Being overqualified for the job never entered Bert’s mind. “I discovered that I love serving people,” he says. “If you came to my home for dinner I’d treat you just the same way I treat every customer.” Carefree and content in his new life, he didn’t give his health much thought. The job keeps him on his feet most of the day, and he’s an avid bike rider.
“I had always been thin, and took it for granted,” he says. “Then one day, about a year and a half ago, I saw myself in a group photo and I thought ‘Wow!’ I hadn’t realized how big I had gotten. When weight comes on gradually, you just don’t notice it.”
Seeing that photo was a turning point for Bert, which motivated him to start counting calories. Within six months he had shed the 40 excess pounds. Once his weight was back on target, he started working out in earnest.
Car trouble forced Bert onto a bike nearly 10 years ago, and he ended up liking it so much that it’s still his main way of getting around. “Believe it or not, in 10 years, it has hardly ever rained on me while I was riding. When I leave the house at 5:30, like clockwork, it stops raining for a while. That’s when I ride to work. I’ll admit, it’s weird.” Leaving early in the morning makes his commute a safe one. “I don’t see any traffic. It’s a wonderful experience. I get there feeling peaceful and calm.” The city has come a long way with adding bike lanes, and Bert prefers to stay off of main roads, but he’s still had a few close calls with drivers that weren’t paying attention.
The conditions of the roads in Midtown also make bike riding a challenge. Three years ago, Bert invested in bike with fat tires for a reason. It makes it harder to ride, but it’s more suitable for navigating potholes and other obstacles.
Bert also goes to Planet Fitness five days a week. He has structured workouts that last an hour on average. “1 start with the treadmill and then move on to weight training,” he says. Keeping up with his lawn and garden keep him active on the off days.
His approach to food follows a simple mantra: “I don’t eat anything unless it’s ‘dead or alive’ meaning I’ll eat fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood, but if it comes from a processing plant, I generally leave it alone.” He typically eats 1,200 calories a day and occasionally enjoys a slice of pizza or lasagna from Little Italy on Union.
According to Bert, willpower is not a problem. “I don’t like sugar. When it comes to diet, I don’t have a weakness or cravings for anything unhealthy. I love everything I eat.”
Bert is naturally positive. “I set goals and I achieve them, and then I re-set my goals. I tell people, whatever you want to do, just do it!” Living by his own advice, he decided to take up painting. Five years ago he set up an easel in his living room. Though he’s still honing his craft, he’s started exhibiting and selling some of his work.
“I think it’s important not to let life get in the way of taking care of yourself. Keep moving. That’s the key. If you push yourself, you’ll be surprised at how much you can do!”
By Caroline Sposto