Alan Thomas Dickson, a 1953 NC State graduate who helped build a Fortune 500 company that included Harris Teeter Supermarkets, died on Thursday after a fight with small-cell lung cancer. He was 81.
Dickson studied textiles at NC State, and maintained his connection to the university throughout his life. Dickson served on the NC State Board of Trustees and as president of the North Carolina Textile Foundation. In 1993, Dickson was recognized as the College of Textiles Distinguished Alumnus and, in 1996, NC State awarded Dickson the Watauga Medal, its highest nonacademic award. In 2001, Dickson was awarded an honorary degree from NC State.
“Alan Dickson was a great friend to NC State all of his adult life,” said Bob Barnhardt, president of the Alumni Association and former dean of the College of Textiles.
Barnhardt said everyone listened when Dickson asked questions during meetings of the Textile Foundation board. “Everybody admired his abilities and his strategic way of thinking,” Barnhardt said. “They wanted to hear what he had to say.”
After earning an MBA degree from Harvard University, Dickson served for two years in the U.S. Army. He then returned to his home of Charlotte to work for American & Efird Mills. In 1968, Dickson and his brother Stuart founded Ruddick Corporation, which evolved into a holding company that owned Harris Teeter Supermarkets, American & Efird Mills and other companies. Ruddick Corporation changed its named to Harris Teeter Supermarkets Inc. earlier this year after selling American & Efird.
Barnhardt said Dickson was a savvy reader of financial sheets, and knew when to buy and sell companies. He said Dickson was among the first in the textiles industry to sell thread overseas when manufacturing started to shift out of the United States.
“He was overseas selling yarn many years before anyone else,” Barnhardt said.
Dickson was the first president of the American Yarn Spinners Association and served as a director of the Combed Yarn Spinners Association and the N.C. Textile Manufacturers Association.
But for all his business prowess — he was elected to the N.C. Business Hall of Fame in 2002 — Dickson never forgot the good times he had as a student at NC State. Barnhardt recalled Dickson once telling a story of his days in a fraternity, and his assignment as a pledge to steal a suckling pig.
“He assured us he got it back to the mother,” Barnhardt said.
Dickson was active in community affairs in Charlotte, serving in volunteer leaderships positions for groups such as Central Piedmont Community College, the Mint Museum of Art and Presbyterian Hospital. He helped lead the effort to establish and fund the U.S. National Whitewater Center on the Catawba River.
Dickson is survived by his wife, Mary Anne Dickson; stepdaughter, Chase Avery Wood and her husband, Hubie, and their children, Catie and Hubert; stepson Chris Avery and his wife, Beth, and their children, Meg and O’Neal; a brother and two sisters. Dickson was preceded in death by his wife, Lindsay Morehead Dickson.
A memorial service will be held at Christ Episcopal Church, 1412 Providence Road, Charlotte, at 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 5, followed by a reception in All Saints Hall.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to The Linville Foundation, P.O. Box 99, Linville, N.C., 28646, or to the Leadership Scholarship Program, U.S. National Whitewater Center, 5000 Whitewater Center Parkway, Charlotte, N.C. 28214.