Handing over the keys after 40 Years, Laguna Beach Realtor reflects on close call in Vietnam

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Gary Hawley, who is winding down his 40-year career as a rental and property manager, recently reflected on his stint as a machine gunner during the Vietnam War. Photo by Barbara McMurray.

By Barbara McMurray, Special to the Independent

No matter how eagerly anticipated, retirement can be a bittersweet farewell. No one knows this more acutely than Gary Hawley, who has owned and run Laguna Beach Properties for 41 years, amassing a modest portfolio of about 200 condos, single-family residences, apartments, and commercial buildings in and around Laguna Beach. Property manager Hawley, who would typically show up on tree-trimming day to ensure the work went smoothly, was determined that his transition meant his owners and tenants would continue to receive the same old-school, attentive treatment they had become accustomed to.

For months, he fended off offers from giant commercial brokerages and out-of-state real estate aggregators. Hawley knew the kind of successor he was looking for, and in Dave Csira, he found it.

“I hand-picked Dave to pass the torch to because he treats customers the way I’ve always treated mine—like friends,” remarked Hawley. In 2020, Csira started his independent brokerage, Cove Canyon Realty, then recruited Realtor Brendy Michael as a partner. Their company has dual divisions, with the leasing and property management side of the business retaining the name Laguna Beach Properties.

Csira said, “Gary is known for his integrity. When you build trust, people stick with you. Tenants move out and move up to purchase, and we hope they’ll choose to engage the Realtors they’ve come to know as reliable property managers.”

Handing over the reins will be gradual. Hawley will retain a desk in Csira’s new Forest Avenue Mall office, along with his signature bowl of candy for all who happen by.

As the office conversation deepened one sunny afternoon, Hawley opened up about a twist of fate in his youth that both threatened and saved his life.

He grew up in the Long Island hamlet of Uniondale, N.Y. His father was a Navy commander and mother a homemaker.

“In 1967, my older sister went off to college. Our parents couldn’t afford to send two kids away to school, so I stayed home and attended local Kings College,” he said. He dropped a class he disliked, realizing too late that this downgraded him to part-time student status, triggering his name being entered into the draft lottery.

With no exceptions even for the son of a Navy commander, Hawley was drafted into the Army. Off he went to Texas for basic training. Next stop: Vietnam, as a machine gunner.

“I rarely talk about it,” Hawley reflected. “When we returned, there were lots of protests. It was not OK to have served in the military. I didn’t have much choice. I went and did what I was supposed to do.”

Six months into serving, Hawley contracted malaria. “I had a 106° temperature for four days,” he said.

He was brought back to a Texas military hospital. He recovered and returned to Vietnam, where he learned the devastating reason he was reassigned to a new platoon. Shortly after his departure, his unit had been ambushed and every man died. If not for his grave illness, he would have been there with them and perished.

Returning to civilian life in California, Hawley became a TWA flight attendant and eventually obtained his broker’s license. The affable Hawley found that he enjoyed the hands-on rental business. He figures he has known friend and tenant Kirk Sand, owner of The Guitar Shoppe on North Coast Highway, for 40 years.

“Gary is what any business would wish for in a property manager,” Sand said. “He’s friendly, conscientious, and always looking out for both the landlord and the tenant.  We will miss him greatly. But I was impressed with David and feel confident we’ll have a good relationship with him, too.”

Barbara is a writer and marketing consultant. Find her at mcmurraymarketing.com.

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