Oklahoma actor James Garner loved dogs.
He once named dogs after characters from his television series “Maverick.”
Daughter Gigi Garner loves doggies, too.
She has dogs (Angel and Rocky) named after characters from her dad’s TV series “The Rockford Files.”
This is a dog story, but it’s a Father’s Day story, too.
Gigi felt it would be fitting to make this announcement on Father’s Day weekend:
She has launched a charitable organization — the James Garner Animal Rescue Fund — in her father’s memory. The reach will extend to his home state.
James Garner, who charmed TV audiences while starring in “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files,” died July 19, 2014. There was no funeral or memorial service because he did not want people making a fuss over him, according to Gigi. The family honored his wishes.
“But there were a lot of fans and people who loved him and appreciated him, and they wanted to pay their respects and there just wasn’t any way to do that,” she said.
Gigi said it took her five years to figure out the right way for them to do it. The James Garner Animal Rescue Fund (jgarf.org) is that path.
Funds raised through donations will be directed to causes related to animal rescues. Some donations will be filtered to Oklahoma rescues and shelters because Gigi wants people to know her family hasn’t forgotten about Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma was very important to my dad,” she said. “He was very loyal to Oklahoma, and I think he would really want that. He would want me to make sure Oklahoma was covered.”
Garner was born in Norman (there’s a bronze statue of him as Maverick there) and spent childhood years in Oklahoma. He named his production company Cherokee Productions because it was thought in the family that he was of Native American descent. He sometimes used an alias (Oklahoma oil man Jimmy Joe Meeker) in episodes of “The Rockford Files.” And the license plate of his Pontiac Firebird in the series read “853 OKG.” The numbers are linked to when he got his first acting job (August 1953), and the letters stand for “Oklahoma” and “Garner.”
“He was as humble and down to Earth as he was growing up until the day he passed,” Gigi said. “He never forgot where he came from. He was so proud to be from Oklahoma.”
Gigi said she is sorry she took so long to figure out the best way to honor her father, but, knowing how he felt about dogs, she thinks he would approve of the James Garner Animal Rescue Fund.
“I just want to make sure that people do not forget him and also what a wonderful humanitarian he was,” she said. “Everyone knows James Garner, the actor, but James Garner was a person. He wasn’t a cartoon character. He was a real person, and I would like people to know that he was a great dad and he was a humanitarian and he was a philanthropist. He helped so many people.”
James Garner once went to the desert with a friend and returned with a stray pup.
“He just found him in the middle of the desert and fell in love with him and took him home,” Gigi said.
She said he got his first dog, Ginger, when he was 11 and was a dog lover ever since. You can see a photo of Ginger and other family dogs on the jgarf.org home page.
“We always had a dog — or dogs,” Gigi said.
Gigi was given her first dog by her father when she was 6. The dog was an Australian silky terrier, and she named it Jim Jim after her dad.
“Our dogs were family,” she said.
Gigi said she believes in sticking up for underdogs — or in this case, dogs — just like her father. She has a 30-year history of animal rescues, including personally rescuing animals from dangerous situations. She has donated time and money to rescues and rescuers in need, trained a rescue dog to work as a pet therapy dog at a hospital, launched a successful campaign for additional animal cruelty officers, adamantly supported no-kill rescue organizations and has spoken out publicly against animal abusers, hoarders and breed discrimination. In doing so, she made many connections with other animal rescue partners, advocates, fosters, vets and shelters.
Gigi said she has always used her own money for rescue-related ventures, but she thinks the launch of the charitable organization will allow her to team up with others to be more successful and help more animals.
“It’s something I hope will continue for a long, long, long, long time,” she said.
“If I got another, I don’t know what I would name it,” she said. “Maybe Dennis Becker or Beth Davenport.”
For those who don’t know: Those are names of supporting characters from “The Rockford Files.”