An American dream

Livio Gustavo Suarez was 25 years old when he decided to follow his vision of a better life. His native Uruguay did not offer the freedoms he dreamed of and heard about in the United States of America. Government regulations all but bankrupted his import-export business and his marriage did not survive the trauma.

When his aunt in Atlanta mentioned that a job in the import-export business was available in her area, he took that as a sign that the time had come for the man to follow the dreams of the boy. But those opportunities did not come easy.

He arrived at Atlanta’s Hartsfield airport on the 8th of the month and by the 10th he realized there was no job. Not one to mope or whine, he pulled up his bootstraps and hit the streets. Walking door to door, a Spanish bakery gave him, a new immigrant who did not yet know English, a job at the lowest level for $4.25 an hour. He worked 80 hours a week with no overtime. He didn’t complain. He just worked.

Within two months, life for Gus changed. He was learning English. After years of being in the import-export business, he was already conversant in his native Spanish, as well as Italian and French. He was managing the bakery, not just working there, and he met the love of his life, Billie.

Gus didn’t take much time off, but when he did, he enjoyed hanging at the local pool hall in midtown Atlanta for a game or two. One evening he happened by and enjoyed watching a spunky young lady show the regulars how a good game of pool should be played. A couple of the participants didn’t appreciate the education and were less than gentlemanly in their remarks.

Ever the gentleman and polite to the core, Gus stepped in and the rest, as they say, is history. It was love at first sight for him, but his spunky Billie from Kentucky needed a few months to be convinced. In the end, he won her over.

In time, the bakery was sold, and Gus was left to find work once again. Billie worked for a dog grooming business, and Gus joined her. Before long, his business acumen and work ethic made the couple realize they worked well together and should be working to improve their lives and not someone else’s. They pooled what few resources they had and were able to get a loan to start their first business together as a team.

While the grooming business was successful and offered them some security, Gus was heedful of bigger and better opportunities. He was introduced to the heating and air conditioning industry by his brother-in-law and saw the potential and job security such a business offered.

For two years, he worked at the grooming salon during the day and attended classes at the local tech school until 11 in the evening. When he was done, the economy was slow, and there was little work to be found locally. So again, he made the hard choices. He worked two hours away from home from Sunday to Wednesday for a HVAC company and then helped Billie from Thursday to Saturday at the shop.

It was hard, but those decisions paid off. By 1999, building was booming in northern Georgia. Gus had his license, plenty of experience and felt it was time to start the business that would one day lead to his retirement. Gus HVAC, Inc. was formed. Founded on the principles of honesty, hard work and good value, business boomed.

Once again, he and Billie were a team and life was good.

Gus’ ambitions and hopes of living the American dream didn’t just involve long hours and lots of hard work. He had other aspirations and reasons for wanting to become financially stable. He wanted to be a pilot. He wanted to learn to fly. The little boy in Uruguay had little chance to fulfill such a hope, but the successful businessman in the United States of America could.

In 2004, Gus’ friend, Chip, asked if he would like to ride shotgun on an Angel Flight from PDK in Atlanta to Americus in the southwestern part of the state. He said yes. It was his first flight in a small airplane. ATC gave them clearance to over fly the city of Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. It was an unbelievably bumpy flight, and Gus loved it.

Gus started flying with Chip regularly. As a boy in Uruguay, he had tried to join the air force but was turned down because of his flat feet. In the U.S., flat feet are not a deterrent for pursuing a private pilot license. In 2005, Billie gifted him with a flight in a Stearman at a local airport. He finally realized the time to follow that dream was now and that he needed to start those lessons.

He did. Ever the businessman, after he soloed, he decided that any money spent on an airplane should be spent on his. Besides, low-wings appealed to him, and the one low-wing in the flight school’s fleet, a Piper Cherokee, was never available. He found a good deal on a 1962 Cherokee 160 and bought it. He finished his training in it, and it was the airplane he flew on his check ride.

The freedom to fly, something most Americans take for granted, has been very rewarding. Flying reduces the stress in his life. While supportive of Gus’ flying pursuits, Billie is not exactly a comfortable passenger, but she does appreciate the reduced travel time when they visit their grandkids. It is Gus’ plan to pursue an instrument rating, which he thinks will give Billie more confidence in his abilities and help reduce those no-go determinations.

Gus says that he has so much to be thankful for and is sometimes overwhelmed with his blessings and good fortune. He found Billie and has a lovely family. He has a successful business. He became an American citizen. He is an active member of his church and community and tries to give support to those also wanting to pursue their own version of the American dream. And he finally became a pilot.

But with all this good fortune, there was one issue in his life that caused him great sadness. When Gus left Uruguay nearly 25 years ago, he left behind a son. For all those years, he tried to be a part of his son’s life, to be a father, to give him support. This past Christmas, that hope, that final dream came true when 24-year-old Juan Francisco brought his wife to the states to meet his dad. It was a joyous reunion.

Gus truly believes that coming to America was the best decision he has ever made, and now that he is reunited with his son, he has no regrets. The freedoms allowed in the U.S. were a dream, and that dream has come true.

If he could change anything, it would be the attitude of other Americans, he said. It’s annoying to him when he hears native-born Americans refer to themselves as hyphen-Americans where they insert another country into their identity.

“They should be proud to be just Americans. Being American is a gift from God.”


  1. Joe Corrao says

    Thank you Deb, for reminding us how great a country we have and how blessed we are by folks like Gus. God gave us freedom, our Founders built a system to protect it, and millions of good men and women in far places — Gus and my grand parents among them — heard its call and came here to enjoy, cherish and strengthen it. Gus said it best: We are all blessed to be Americans, together.

  2. Jim Dukeman says

    Deb, you did it again, this is one great story and tells a wonderful lesson. I agree with Livio, in this country we have God Fearing AMERICANS, the others are just passing through. God bless you girl, and the best to the “Old Man”


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