• 48°

A Life Lived: Herbert “Jay” Wilson’s life was sweet with cakes and pies

Herbert “Jay” Wilson, Jr. got up early and went to his kitchen and began baking. That’s because he was a baker by trade. In his lifetime he turned out hundreds of cakes and pies, along with cookies, loaves of bread and other tasty treats that folks enjoyed.
Jay or Junior as he was often known to friends worked for many years at the old Variety Bakery in Elizabethton. In fact, he worked there until it closed, said his daughter, Judy McAmis. Herbert lived in Marion, N.C., Oak Ridge, Tn., and a few other places before he settled in Elizabethton and went to work at Variety Bakery, which was owned by his two uncles, G.B. Gardner and Virgil McKinney. “Baking was his thing, and he was good at it. He was an awesome baker. It was a family thing. He, my mother and my brother and I all worked at the bakery at one time or another…or hung out there while Dad and Mom worked. It was an awesome place. It was a ‘sweet’ place to hang out at. People would come in and sit and have a cup of coffee and a doughnut, piece of pie, or cookie. I enjoyed the bakery,” Judy shared.
Herbert was not only a pastry chef, but he was a cake artist as well. Judy shared that when the Mall at Johnson City opened, her dad was commissioned to make a cake and decorate it for the grand opening. The cake was made and shaped into a small model of the Mall and decorated. “It was a very beautiful cake,” said Judy.
“Dad made many different kinds of cakes — birthday cakes, wedding cakes, and cakes for other special occasions. He was a master cake designer,” his daughter shared.
His son Kelly shared that his daddy was color blind. His secret weapon was his wife, Doris, who made sure he got his colors right when it came to decorating the cakes.
Judy said doughnuts were her dad’s favorite thing to bake, but he enjoyed making pies, too. His specialty was apple pie. “And, he could really make good bread, too,” she said.
Her mom, Doris, who also helped out at the bakery, also worked at the One Stop Market for many years. She preceded Herbert in death.
“My dad was a quiet man. He was not very talkative or outgoing. He sort of stayed to himself. But, he loved his family and interacting with his grandchildren,” Judy said.
“His workday was different from most people. He would usually go into work at about 2:30 a.m. each morning and work until about 11 a.m. He spent the afternoons with us, but would usually go to bed early,” said Judy.
“The bakery was an amazing place, and there were some wonderful people who worked there. One of my favorite things that Dad made was not doughnuts, cake, or pie, but cheese straws. Those things were so good. Dad was good at what he did and he enjoyed working with dough and making things from it,” Judy said.
“Every year, sometime around Christmas or shortly thereafter, we would all sit at the table and transfer and recycle recipes to new books, as the books were pretty well worn from day in and day out use,” Judy said.
In his retirement years Herbert enjoyed watching the Atlanta Braves play baseball. Although he never attended a game in person, it was rare he missed watching a game on television. “Baseball and TV preachers, that’s what he watched. He watched every TV preacher — John Hagee, Charles Stanley, Robert Jeffers, Robert Morris, etc. He also enjoyed watching the Gaithers,” said Judy.
She shared that the family attended Valley Forge Free Will Baptist Church. “Dad especially loved Pastor Mark (Potter) and the choir,” Judy said.
“My dad was a good man. He was a hard worker, was good at what he did. He sacrificed for us. Dad really loved God and his family. He was very humble,” shared Kelly.
Herbert Wilson, Jr. took life seriously, but he made it “sweet” with his cakes and pies and the dollop of love served up with each one.