Pat Hall, Sr.

He was larger than life; bigger than imagination; wealthy; and accomplished. His idol was General George Patton. He is an icon of a bygone era. He was to Charlotte what Judge Roy Bean was to the Wild West. If he lived today, he probably would spend most hours in court defending his uniquely, Pat Hall, actions. I am delighted to present, the founder of Carowinds, Pat Hall, Sr.

These are a few of the stories I have shared with two members of the once eccentric and unpredictable Carowinds marketing department. We were there. We experienced it. We survived and today they are the memories that still make us roar with laughter and wonderment. Because, someone could have been killed.

Before Carowinds, Pat Hall, Sr. made his fortune in textiles. He sold used textile machinery. And he sold them with a flourish and unlike anyone else. You see, Pat had a fondness for railroad cars. Think of the railroad car in the television series, “Wild Wild West,” with Robert Conrad. Remember how lush it was with velvet curtains, leather couches, and other grand touches. Well, that comes close to describing Pat’s railroad car.

Pat Hall’s railroad car was decorated to entertain dignitaries and Chief Executive officers, but he did not limit it to them…he threw open the doors to police, fireman, and friends such as Huge of Crescent Land and Timber, his best friend, John Belk, and many others who were just plain folks. Pat made everyone feel at home.

His standard for entertaining included the best champagnes and liquors. All the beverages including soft drinks and packs of cigarettes were offered free. Back then cigarette packs were perfectly acceptable.

Two were the finest gentlemen you’ll ever meet were Hosie and Moses. Whether in their tuxedos or everyday clothes, they were the caliber of courtly English Butlers, mindful courteous, gentle, and, always, they had a twinkle in their eyes. It was probably because they were suppressing laughter.

Gail Anderson was the cook and head bottle washer. Gail Anderson was soft and fluffy and a genie in the kitchen. Gail was a friend and she knew everyone’s secrets. They were part of the Pat Hall inner team, but still, Pat would shoot at them on occasion. But I digress.

Pat Hall’s approach to sales began with his love of railroad cars. When he attended textile shows, he would hire a handful of beautiful women to attend to his booth. He preferred women with titles, Miss South Carolina, Miss North Carolina, beauty queens.

Pat was always there, but he rarely attended the textile market shows; instead he had his ladies pass out invitations to selected guests. These were invitations to his railroad car on the tracks just beyond the show grounds. It was an honor to receive an invitation. Invitations were as desired as entrances to today’s select clubs in New York and Los Angeles. Every one knew that a great time was to be had by all.

Then, one night, when he was ready to move on and I swear this is true, he made the statement often to thousands. He had a dream. He dreamed of a historically themed park on the state lines of North and South Carolina. He dreamed of Carowinds. When he woke, he set about to achieve his dream. The first step was purchasing the land. I was not involved in this part of his history so I will not try to address this era.

Still, I understand that his negotiations with the landowners were unique. When Pat had completed his land transactions he had acquired much more land than was necessary to build his theme park which was soon to be named Carowinds.

In this phase, Pat Hall became the essence of Cecil B. D’Mille, Walt Disney, and P. T. Barnum rolled up into one home-grown, down-home, self-made promoter. He was the masthead for such heralded promoters as Humpy Wheeler, formerly with Lowe’s Motor Speedway, and Stan Kaplan who set the pace in radio and publishing for Charlotte and beyond.

His next step was to hire the best executives and marketing professionals he could find. He began with Bill Hensley and William Veeder, two of Charlotte’s finest executives. Within a year or so, he set his sites on a young man who had established a name in marketing at the Six Flags Theme Park in Atlanta, Georgia, Bill Dawson.

Bill Dawson is also one of the founders of the internationally honored foundation called “People to People”, along with his best friend Rafer Johnson (yes, the Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist in the 1960 Rome Olympics—Silver in Melbourne in 1956).

Pat traveled to Atlanta by plane and invited Bill to his suite where the door was opened to him by Moses and Hosie. Bill has told me that during that meeting it was not a matter of whether or not he was going to take the job, but when he could start. Bill Dawson became the head of the most untamed marketing department in the Carolinas.

The staff also included a wonderful man, C.J. Underwood, my first public relations boss. C. J. came to Carowinds from WBTV and was not prepared for his induction into business as Public Relations Director of Carowinds. Donna Ashcraft was Bill’s assistant, plus Patsy whose name eludes me who was the current Miss North Carolina. Patsy was a gracious spirit among this wild tribe who held us close to reality.

Let’s begin with Pat Hall’s beloved and well-chronicled, chrome-plated, 38 revolver/pistol. It was a gift from the Charlotte Police during a lavish banquet he gave to honor them. During the proceedings, he was presented with a replica of General George Patton’s favorite gun. General Patton was Pat Hall’s idol and they approached many things with a similar flourish…

These stories are recalled with help from Bill Dawson, who now lives in Long Beach, California, and Donna Ashcraft, who like me is still a living in and about Charlotte, NC.

These are some of our favorite recollections. Read them with laughter and remember before you blow your politically correct fuse, we are speaking of another time and it does not fare well when measured by the whole politically correctness of it. It was a time when there was no such thing as being politically correct.

Pat Hall was my first Chairman of the Board Boss and my first business experience. I thought all bosses took shots at you and I suspect I have never quite recovered from the years I worked in the Carowinds Marketing Department run by Bill Dawson.

The most anticipated times for the marketing staff were the Friday staff meetings with Mr. Hall in the conference room. Meetings always began routinely with everyone presenting their reports and discussion of promotions.

Around noon, Pat’s chef, Gail Anderson, would report that dinner (lunch, really) would be served in thirty minutes in the railroad car. Pat then would instruct Hosie and Moses to serve the Bloody Marys’s.

The meetings kind of went downhill from there. Thirty minutes allowed for two Bloody Marys’s each. In all, the Bloody Mary’s I have drank since then…I have never tasted any other Bloody Mary that was as good as the ones served during Friday staff meetings. By the time the lunch table was set, we adjourned from the conference room to the Lodge.

The Lodge, like his railroad car, was larger than life. It was decorated like an elegant hunt club complete with animal heads staring down at you. Here, Pat was the conductor of executive conferences and parties.

The fifteen or so of us would settle down to a great meal and more Bloody Mary’s–if we so desired. Lunch always ended with Pat addressing each of us individually with his instructions for the next week. After each instruction, if he felt it necessary to make a point, he would point his pearl-handled revolver and fire one or two bullets into the beams over your head. I know what it feels like to hear a bullet above my head. While it alarmed me, it certainly sobered me up; and looking back…I wouldn’t have missed it.

Later, after C. J. had returned to WBTV after his two years before the mast, I set up business in his former office; but it was not as tidy as Pat Hall would have liked. He kept complaining about it until one Friday he instructed me to have it cleaned within the week. He even offered to hire a Kelly Girl to assist me. The Kelly employee and I were sorting through stacks of papers in the morning when Pat Hall and a goat appeared at my office door. His .38 was drawn.
“Judy, I am going to leave this goat with you to help you with this #$%^ place. I will return at five o’clock for the goat; at which time, if this office is not clean, I will shoot either the goat or you.” He dropped the goat’s lead and closed the door. The Kelly temp’ climbed off my desk, picked up her purse and left.

I followed her down the hall trying to assure her that no one would be shot, not even the goat. She never looked back. Bill Dawson returned the goat; and I set about furiously cleaning and filing. Needlessly to say, both the goat and I lived to tell about another day.

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