Tributes to Gary Pettus poured in as the news of his death made headlines across the country.
“Our hearts are broken. Gary was one of the finest men I have ever known. He inspired me and everyone around him to be their best. He did this from everything he touched,” wrote actor James Woods.
Pettus was an advocate for children, and struggled with addiction, being arrested at least four times, but has credited a spiritual awakening in his early life for helping him turn his life around. He attended the therapeutic hospital in rehab facilities, and found success as a minister.
Pettus, who also dedicated himself to growing peaches and mandarins from his own backyard, inspired visitors to take a look beyond their own problems and find some answers and encouragement from his services.
“Gary has helped hundreds of people in our New York City church overcome their addictions and rebuild their lives. People were moved to ask him about his difficult childhood. Through this testimony he used his experience to bless the lives of people who needed it most,” wrote Pastor Julius Deeming of the Worship Center Church.
In 2016, Pettus appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories with Patti Stanger. Pettus shared the part he played in rescuing a 90-year-old man from his burning home:
“I knew how hot it was, I knew the fire was so bad inside, so I asked him, you can grab the thing that’s holding onto your feet. I grabbed the man’s feet, and pulled him out. He was trying to climb out, he went through the window and landed right in my arms,” Pettus said.
— Posted by Gary Pettus and Dr. Stephan Lewis on Wednesday, October 10, 2018
In interviews, he recalled how he was dousing the flames and help the man make it out of the home.
“I pulled him, I crawled through the window and he was very grateful for it, he told me, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’” Pettus said.
His personal story and personal struggles led him to work alongside his wife, Stephan Lewis, who ran a parenting center with Pettus, according to online biographies of the couple.
Pettus passed away Monday night after a three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.