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Pilot founder James Haslam II speaks to United Way on leadership and giving

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated May 10, 2017 at 2:29 PM

James Haslam II, father of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and founder of the Pilot Corp., came to Johnson City on Tuesday to help the United Way of Washington County take its leadership-giving program to a higher level.

As the keynote speaker for the United Way’s Leadership Luncheon at the General Shale Convention Center at the Gray Fossil Site, Haslam spoke to an audience of about 100 United Way supporters about the qualities of leadership.

As a former United Way board chairman and campaign chairman in the greater Knoxville area, he talked about the level of leadership giving in his home community.

And as the founder and chairman of the Knoxville United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society of major contributors, he threw out a challenge and a personal pledge to help the Washington County United Way move closer to that level.

On leadership, Haslam said there are three qualities that are most applicable to what the United Way is about — optimism, passion and simplicity.

“You have to believe in tomorrow. And you have to believe that what you are doing is going to make a better tomorrow,” he said. “You have to have a passion for other people. Without it, a person cannot be a leader.

“Everyone tries to complicate everything. But most things are really very simple.”

About the Alexis de Tocqueville Society, Haslam said he asked the founder of the worldwide United Way philanthropy society, Dr. Thomas F. Frist Jr. of Nashville, how he could become a member of the society and received a very simple answer. “He said, ‘You give $10,000.’ ”

In Knoxville, Haslam said 25 percent of all United Way contributions are made by leadership givers. And when he asked how many people in Washington County give $10,000 to United Way and learned there are four, he made his challenge and his personal pledge. “If you get to nine, I’ll be the tenth and give you $10,000.”

Wrapping up his brief comments, Haslam answered the guests’ questions off the cuff and in rapid succession.

He said he crossed the state line to open his first Pilot gas station in Gate City, Va., in order not to compete with his employer at that time and expects the next station in what is now North America’s largest truck stop chain to open soon in Steubenville, Ohio.

He said the current oil and gas prices are “about where they need to be” and are likely to stay in the range of $40 to $45 per barrel and $2 to $2.50 per gallon respectively.

He said he does not know and does not believe his son, the governor, knows what he will do at the end of his final term.

He spoke with optimism about his son Jimmy’s Cleveland Browns having three Harvard graduates on their management staff.

And as the University of Tennessee’s largest contributor and a member of its 1951 national championship football team, Haslam said, “I am 86 years old and I have three things on my bucket list — see the Browns go to the Super Bowl. See UT in the national playoffs. And see UT basketball in the final four.”

Jerome Julian, the new president and CEO of the United Way of Washington County, closed the luncheon by asking the guests to “Remember our credo. United Way fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Johnson City, Jonesborough and Washington County.”

And after the luncheon, Julian accepted Haslam’s nine $10,000 leadership givers’ challenge with optimism, saying “I can get those.”

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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