Hooper Gordon “Pat” Pattillo was born in Houston County and grew up on a tenant farm in Lithonia, working alongside his father H.A. and brother Dan. Pat picked cotton and sweet potatoes, and contributed money he earned into the family’s Mason jar fund. During World War II, the family moved to different towns so his father could work construction jobs.
That Mason jar of money and his work ethic took him far from farm life. By the time he retired in the mid-1980s, he had helped build a leading Georgia construction firm and served in high appointed positions, such as the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta and on boards for multiple colleges and universities. He had also co-founded Leadership Georgia, and was launching a passion project of developing 4,500 acres in Costa Rica
Pattillo, 96, died in late February.
He “believed in working hard, and in giving back,” said Christine Pierce, an accountant with Cherry Bekaert, who worked with him. “He was always looking for new and better ways to do things. He tried to put people in positions in which they could grow beyond their current job.”
His grand ambitions did not prevent him from overlooking individuals who worked for him. Employee Russell McKellar remembered that Pattillo drove him to Carrollton, where he bought McKellar five suits and five dress shirts, then gave him money to get the suits tailored.
“I guess he thought I wouldn’t take the time to shop for myself,” McKellar said. “He was a very generous man, especially to those who were loyal to him.”
Pattillo, the son of H.A. and Floree Pattillo, finished Athens High School at 15, worked with his father and then served in the Army Air Corps before heading to Georgia Tech. He finished in 1949 with a B.S. in architecture. He joined a construction firm, which took him to Jackson, Mississippi, where he met and married Elizabeth McClure in 1950. By 1952, H.A. and Dan had started a family design-build construction company, funded initially by the Mason jar money, and Pat joined them.
Pattillo Construction built churches and schools across Georgia, believing those structures helped make strong communities. After finishing 37 schools, they turned their attention to the industrial wave hitting metro Atlanta. Pattillo Construction developed the Stone Mountain Industrial District, which had 200 plants with utilities, rail spurs, and other essential features. Later it built warehouses, distribution centers and manufacturing facilities across the Southeast.
“His favorite thing was to visit the construction sites,” said his granddaughter Bree Pattillo-Abel, who now runs the company. Always dressed in formal business attire, Pat Pattillo “kept his boots in his car, and he’d walk the site, mud or not, and he’d thank everyone there for doing a good job. He wanted to acknowledge everyone.”
Pat Pattillo served on the board of directors for numerous Georgia companies including Georgia Power and the Southern Company, as well as civic clubs. From 1974 until 1997, he was the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
In late 1969, when Pattillo was chairing the Board of Regents, he helped push through resistance by some board members to the hiring of Cherokee County native and former Secretary of State Dean Rusk to the University of Georgia Law School.
Pattillo was also a trustee at Agnes Scott College and at Berry College — where he served 30 years, and chaired the board for five. In 1972, he co-founded Leadership Georgia with J.W. Fanning, who had retired from UGA the previous year.
When Pattillo retired in the mid-1980s, he turned his attention to 4,500 acres of Pacific Coast property in Costa Rica he and other investors had bought in 1973. In 1986, Hacienda Pinilla broke ground and is today a beach resort community. In addition to providing jobs, Pattillo established a non-profit organization to strengthen education, health care, and housing in the region, according to Berry College President Steve Briggs.
Pattillo invited Berry College officials to Costa Rica to develop plans to involve Berry students locally. A seven-week summer program has Berry students living with local families and working with village teachers to improve English language skills. A scholarship he established brings Guanacaste high school graduates to Berry and other colleges, and a foundation helps support them.
“I will never forget sitting at a campfire on a beach on the coast of Guanacaste listening to Mr. Pattillo describe to Berry students how he hoped their experience in the local villages and schools would inspire them to be ambitious in service of others,” Briggs said.
He is survived by children Wylci Fables, Bob Pattillo and Lynn Pattillo Cohen, and his grandchildren, Bree Pattillo-Abel, Kathlyn Pattillo, Gus Pattillo, Alexandra Pattillo, Azeo Fables, Ioven Fables, Emily Cohen and Jack Cohen.
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